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Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe Paperback – 5 Jun 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: ATRIA BOOKS; Reprint edition (5 Jun. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439192375
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439192375
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Livio's usual knack at making sophisticated concepts accessible has been brought to bear on his book. . . . What comes through clearly, as is one of the author's stated intentions, is that errors are part and parcel of the process and that science progresses, not always despite them, but also through them. . . . With its illustrious characters, interesting ideas and those blunders to marvel at, the book makes a fascinating read." --Marianne Freiberger "Plus magazine "

About the Author

Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the author of The Golden Ratio, a highly acclaimed book about mathematics and art for which he received the International Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize; The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved; Is God a Mathematician?; and The Accelerating Universe.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 15 Dec. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brilliant blunders? How can blunders be brilliant? Well they sometimes can if they are made by scientists of the calibre of Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, or even lesser geniuses such as Linus Pauling and Lord Kelvin. The blunder itself can act as a catalyst and open up entirely new ways of looking at nature. In this book, the astrophysicist Mario Livio illustrates this by examining the cases of five iconic scientists from different disciplines - Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Einstein and Hoyle - whose work has transcended science and extended out to general culture. The nature of their blunders is different in each case and illustrates some universal human traits. They demonstrate that the road to discovery and innovation can be constructed even via the unlikely path of blunders.

Darwin's blunder was not to realise that his theory of evolution was incompatible with the blending theory of heredity that was accepted at the time. This implied that any variation with new characteristics that arose by chance would quickly be lost. His attempts to overcome this problem were misguided and he fell victim to what modern psychologists call the `illusion of confidence', i.e. overestimating ones abilities. Nevertheless, the blunder paved the way for the mathematical theory of population genetics and the vindication of Mendel's theory of inheritance. Kelvin calculated the age of the Earth to be far smaller than the evidence from geology suggested, not because he knew nothing about radioactivity (which actually makes rather little difference to the result), but because he refused to accept that there could be convection currents from the Earth's core. His stubbornness stemmed from his knowledge that his mathematical abilities were undeniable and so he had total faith in his calculations.
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Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827) was a French astronomer and mathematician, widely viewed today as one of the greatest scientists of all time. What intrigues me most about him are his mistakes from which he and others learned valuable lessons. There is a brief reference to him in Brilliant Blunders (on Page 74) as Mario Livio discusses research by William Thomas (Lord Kelvin): To calculate the Sun's age, "he borrowed elements from theories for the formulation of the solar system proposed by the French physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant." Livio's purpose in the book is to cite various "momentous blunders in a wide range of disciplines" that proved "brilliant" because they helped to advance substantially the progress of scientific knowledge. As Livio explains, "I hope to demonstrate that the road to discovery and innovation can be constructed even through the unlikely path of blunders made by Lord Kelvin as well as by Charles Darwin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein.

What we have in this immensely entertaining as well as informative book is a rigorous examination of various "colossal mistakes by great scientists that changed our understanding of life and the universe...As I hope to show, the analysis of these blunders forms a living body of knowledge that is not only captivating in its own right but also can guide actions in domains ranging from scientific practices to ethical behavior. The second reason is simple: The topics of life, of the Earth, and of the universe have intrigued humans -- not just scientists -- since the dawn of civilization, and have inspired tireless quests to uncover their origins and out past.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anas on 13 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
it's a good book.. gives you good knowledge about Physics and biology of evolution.. how things work out in various scientific fields and personality of the greatest scientists of these particular fields
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mordechai Rennert on 13 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
This book does not motivate you to turn the pages and keep reading. What is a popular science book written for, anyway? Maybe I'll try just another of his books ' the one about symmetry. zzzz!
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