Ian Stewart, author of The Mathematics of Life
“A vivid exploration of today's science, from the forces that keep our planet in orbit to the origin of the atoms that form our bodies. Clear and concise, easy to read, and enormously informative, Cosmic Numbers relates the stories behind some of the most important numbers in sciencewhere they came from, what they tell us, and how they changed the way we view our world.”
John L. Casti, Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Vienna, and author of Mood Matters, Paradigms Lost, Five Golden Rules, and The Cambridge Quintet
“Most people use numbers like 1, 2, 3 ... to count. But the numbers that really count are the ones described in this book! They tell us why we see the universe we do and not see something else. After reading this very enlightening, informative and entertaining book, you'll see why some numbers are just a bit more equal than others.”
Leonard Wapner, El Camino College
“We memorized them in our high school science classes. Now Jim Stein teaches us to appreciate nature's constants by giving us the stories and the personalities behind their discovery. It's an enjoyable and thought provoking read.”
“Cheerful but not dumbed-down.... Every educated reader should know what these numbers mean. Stein casts his net widely, delivering an entertaining history of each, often wandering into areas of science only distantly related but no less worthwhile.”
“In the explanatory power of fundamental numbers, Stein discerns the fundamental harmonies that emerge in the most profound science. Stein teases these harmonies out of their formulas and then weaves them into a broader conceptual fabric
By turns amusing and poignant, Stein's engaging style eases general readers past their fears of scientific math, while also guiding them into a deeper appreciation of the stubborn human complexities of the scientists behind that mat.... Numbers become portals to mind-expanding questions.”
The Boston Globe
“A brisk, fun ride
Stein is good at extracting drama from the brilliant minds and experiments that fill his book, and it's impossible to read it without gaping in awe at just how much science got done in the days prior to statistical analysis software and multicore processors.”
Paul J. Nahin, author of Number-Crunching and An Imaginary Tale
“It would seem trivially obvious to say all numbers are not equal. Some numbers are especially important, however, not because of mathematics but because of physics. This book discusses the history and ‘use' of thirteen such numbers, which if only slightly different would make the world we live in a vastly different placeor simply not even possible. After reading James Stein's Cosmic Numbers you'll understand why existence itself is ‘in the numbers.'”
The Guardian (UK)
“[Cosmic Numbers] is a story of man's lust for measurement...and also a persuasive explanation of why it is worth measuring such apparently arcane phenomena very exactly.”
“Amid seemingly endless strings of equations, a handful of numbers stand out. These are the physical constants, numbers that hold their true value in any situationthe unbreakable scaffolding of reality. In Cosmic Numbers, mathematician James Stein offers a tour of some of these constants.... These are numbers we take for granted today, but Stein stresses the lengths people went to determine them. There is plenty of interesting background too.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“The author cajoles the reader to enjoy the spirit of discovery with him, keeping a light style of narrative. Nevertheless, Stein does not shy away from introducing mathematical formulae as well as precise descriptions of the science involved, sometimes in a rather condensed form. The nonscientific reader need not be intimidated by these.... This book will appeal to a wide audience of readers who are curious to know more about the discovery of the laws that govern our universe.... [A]n enjoyable and informative read.”
Cheerful but not dumbed-down discussions of 13 fundamental numbers.
Unlike many popular-science writers, Stein (Mathematics/California State Univ., Long Beach; How Math Can Save Your Life, 2010, etc.) does not boast that he avoids math, so readers should remember their high-school algebra. Almost everyone knows that light has a speed and that temperatures can drop to absolute zero. However, no one knew that 500 years ago, and Stein recounts how astronomers (in the case of light) and physicists (for absolute zero) teased out the details. Fundamentals discovered more recently bear the names of their founding geniuses: Planck's constant that began the quantum revolution, Hubble's constant that measures how fast the universe is expanding, the Schwarzschild radius (how to make a black hole; squeezing the Earth to the size of a pea would do it) and the Chandrasekhar limit, which determines if an aging star will go quietly or light up the galaxy in a supernova (our sun is too small to explode). Stein is not shy about explaining the mathematics behind these phenomena at length rarely seen in a popular-science book. Readers who keep a pencil and paper handy will benefit, but those who skim will not regret the experience. While not math-free, the book is illustration-free, so readers should make liberal use of that pencil and paper because many explanations become clearer with a simple diagram.
Every educated reader should know what these numbers mean. Stein casts his net widely, delivering an entertaining history of each, often wandering into areas of science only distantly related but no less worthwhile.