The Christian Science Monitor This intriguing account...exemplifies a lesson that humanity seems forever reluctant to learn: How the world appears depends on your frame of reference.
Simon Winchester author of The Professor and the Madman [S]eductively captivating....With all the clarity and narrative brilliance that has become [Aczel's] hallmark.
Aczel, one of our best science popularizers (Fermat's Last Theorem; The Mystery of the Aleph; etc.), now recounts the triumphs and struggles of the French physicist L on Foucault (1819-1868), whose eponymous pendulum presented the first tangible proof of the earth's rotation. Aczel follows Foucault from his beginnings as a medical student and a science journalist covering the meetings of the august French Academy of Sciences to his installation as the official physicist attached to the Imperial Observatory in Paris and his belated election to the Academy of Sciences, finally overcoming the resistance of those who saw as an outsider this genius with no formal academic training. Foucault is portrayed as a wide-ranging thinker, fascinated with questions from the speed of light to the construction of the first gyroscope, but at the center of this account is his 1851 invention and demonstration of his famed pendulum. The author's transitions from narrative to scientific exposition can be a bit rough, but every time the pace begins to drag, he veers off in a new direction, drawing connections between Foucault's work and broader scientific, political and philosophical trends and themes. Aczel's material is so intriguing that one is inclined to forgive his habit of pursuing tangents. The reader is left with a choppy yet fascinating survey of Parisian science during the Second Empire and L on Foucault's grudgingly rewarded place in it. Illus. (Aug. 19) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The notion that the earth rotates had been advanced centuries earlier, but in the mid-19th century, physicists and mathematicians remained frustrated by their failure to find clear proof. Leon Foucault had been a frail child and an indifferent student, but by the time he was a young man, he displayed a keen mind and the skilled hands of an inventor. Snubbed by the prestigious but snooty French Academy of Sciences because he lacked a university degree, Foucault persevered with hard work, a little luck, and fortuitous encounters with influential individuals. In 1853, at the Parthenon in Paris, he rocked the scientific community by proving with a pendulum that the earth rotated on its axis. Mathematician Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorum) has crafted a terrific page-turner that captures the essence of the personalities of the story while clearly expounding on the scientific principles. With rich detail, he evokes the spirit of France during the Second Empire, weaving a tale of political intrigue, scientific discovery, and personal triumph. Highly recommended for all public and small academic libraries.-Denise Hamilton, Franklin Pierce Coll. Lib., Rindge, NH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Everyone knows about Foucault’s pendulum, but who knows anything about the man himself? Mathematician Aczel (The Riddle of the Compass, 2001, etc.) offers a corrective with the story of Léon Foucault (1819-68), whose famous experiment gave the first proof of Earth’s rotation. Aczel begins in 1851, when Foucault set up a pendulum in the cellar of the house he shared with his mother, then jumps back to establish a historical framework. The medieval church adopted the Ptolemaic theory of the cosmos because it agreed with biblical texts implying that Earth is the unmoving center of the universe. When Copernicus and later scientists challenged Ptolemy’s theory, one rejoinder was that no one could detect the Earth’s rotation. Aczel summarizes the arguments up until the 19th century, then switches to Foucault’s early years. The son of a Parisian publisher, Léon suffered from poor health. He left medical school because the sight of blood sickened him, but his professors encouraged him to apply his talents to research, and he became a consummate scientific generalist. Foucault made the first photographs of microscopic objects and of the sun through a telescope. Later, he measured the speed of light with high accuracy. But his lack of formal scientific training held him back. For years he worked as science reporter for a prominent daily newspaper, and even after his 1851 pendulum experiment he fought for recognition. His prime ally was Napoleon III, science-loving Emperor of France, who secured for Foucault the honors the scientific establishment had refused him, including a Ph.D. and membership in the Academy of Science shortly before his premature death. Aczel effectively uses Foucault’s story toprovide a vivid panorama of Second Empire Paris, although occasionally the transitions are a bit rough. A good summary of an important era in science and one of its underrated stars.