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Day Without Yesterday: Lemaitre, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology [Paperback]

John Farrell
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

6 Oct 2006
Sometimes our understanding of our universe is given a huge boost by one insightful thinker. Such a boost came in the first half of the twentieth century, when an obscure Belgian priest put his mind to deciphering the nature of the cosmos. Is the universe evolving to some unforeseen end, or is it static, as the Greeks believed? The debate has preoccupied thinkers from Heraclitus to the author of the Upanishads, from the Mayans to Einstein. The Day Without Yesterday covers the modern history of an evolving universe, and how Georges Lemaitre convinced a generation of thinkers to embrace the notion of cosmic expansion and the theory that this expansion could be traced backward to the cosmic origins, a starting point for space and time that Lemaitre called "the day without yesterday." Lemaitre's skill with mathematics and the equations of relativity enabled him to think much more broadly about cosmology than anyone else at the time, including Einstein. Lemaitre proposed the expanding model of the universe to Einstein, who rejected it. Had Einstein followed Lemaitre's thinking, he could have predicted the expansion of the universe more than a decade before it was actually discovered.

Product details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (6 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560259027
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560259022
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 666,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

John Farrell is a Boston-based writer and producer educated at Harvard in English Literature and History of Science. The former director of media at the Carl J. Shapiro Institute for Education and Research, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Farrell has written for print and online journals such as Salon, National Review, First Things and Tech Central. He has published short fiction and poetry and produced a number of independent videos for education and entertainment. He lives north of Boston.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Physics way back then 1 April 2014
By tom67
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
John Farrell's book makes you realise how interesting physics was back in the earlier 20th century, when relativity, quantum physics, and theories of cosmic origin (or non-origin if you preferred steady-state) were being developed and competing for acceptance. Read Farrell's book and for a while at least you have a sense of what created the theoretical excitement. But it's a human story as well, with formidable characters like Einstein, the alcoholic Gamow, Dirac, and Lemaitre's rather lordly English patron Eddington all part of the story. And of course Georges Lemaitre, Catholic priest and pivot for the controversies. The human story includes vital papers going unread or unnoticed, thesis supervisors not realising what they'd got, personal conversation,s friendships and antipathies playing their part. It wouldn't be like that now, of course, with all our improved means of communication! Or maybe not ... For the more stuff that lands on your desk - this is a variant of Hoyle's Law - the less time you have to read any of it. This is really top-class scientific popularisation, better called communication. Farrell isn't afraid of equations either.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and informative 31 Jan 2006
By S. A. Hughes - Published on
This book was a joy to read. I'm an astrophysicist who does a lot of work with general relativity, and I had absolutely no clue how deep and important the contributions of Lemaitre are to my own field! What was particularly fascinating for me to see was how deeply Lemaitre's thinking was driven by data and observations. Over much of its history, general relativity has been a rather mathematical subfield of physics; it is taught in math departments rather than physics departments in many British universities, for example. It's much more common for this data-driven thinking to be applied to work in relativity today than it was in during Lemaitre's era.

That's just one one thing that I was fascinated by. The book is extremely well written and enjoyable; I read it on my morning train commute to the office and nearly missed my stop several times. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in an in-depth biography of an underappreciated founder of modern cosmology and astrophysics.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and Informative 28 Dec 2005
By Brendan M. Hodge - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I strongly recommend The Day Without Yesterday to anyone with an interest in physics, astronomy and the history of the universe. As well as being an excellent layperson's introduction to Lemaitre's development of the expanding model of the universe (what has become known as the "Big Bang") it provides an excellent description of how real scientists deal with new data, theories and their philosophical implications.

Up until the mid Twenties, virtually all scientists (from ancients like Aristotle and Lucretius to the greats of early and modern science such as Newton and Einstein) had envisioned an essentially static universe. Lemaitre (a World War I veteran, Catholic priest, and physics/mathematics PhD) realized that Einstein's field equations equations implied an expanding universe, which must have had its origin in a "primeval atom" containing all matter in the universe. Lemaitre also made important contributions to "black hole" theory and other areas of theoretical physics.

He was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Pius XI and was made its president by John XXIII, who also (somewhat to Lemaitre's confusion) appointed him to the pontifical commission to study birth control. (Lemaitre died well before the commission provided its report to Paul VI.)

Although a certain amount of familiarity with mathematics will help, you don't need a great deal of knowledge about the field to enjoy Farrell's writing. I would class The Day Without Yesterday with books like Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, which provide a good popular introduction to an important transitional period in science while remaining accessible to the general reader.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Primeval Big Bang Cosmologist 1 Jan 2006
By Bruce Crocker - Published on
Georges LemaÎtre may just be the Rodney Dangerfield of cosmology - he just can't get the respect he deserves [in the book I'm currently reading, it says "Modern cosmology is based on the big bang theory proposed by George Gamow..."]. _The Day Without Yesterday_ by John Farrell goes a long way towards making the case that Georges LemaÎtre should at the least share the title of the Father of Modern Cosmology. In the book, we follow the trajectory of the life of Fra Georges LemaÎtre, priest, mathematician, and physicist, played out against the first 2/3rds of history of the 20th Century and the history of modern cosmology. We learn of LemaÎtre's "primeval atom" - the original version of the big bang - and his interactions [or lack thereof] with Einstein, Hubble, Gamow and others. I am pleased to report that LemaÎtre lived long enough to hear about the discovery of the cosmic background radiation and the vindication of the big bang. LemaÎtre is a good example of the fact that religion and science need not conflict. I highly recommend this fine book to fans of biography and the history of science.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On Farrell's Universe 9 Jan 2007
By Prof Dr Hernani Maia - Published on
Being undoubtedly a book on History of Science, "The Day without Yesterday" is narrated in such a delightful way that on reading it one feels like going through a very fine story, almost a novel.

In his book, John Farrel places the "obscure" Belgian priest Georges Lemaître in the place he deserves in concern with the make up the Primeval Atom model of the Universe, which turns out to be Big Bang theory. This is also true with respect to the so well known Albert Einstein and also to all the others who contributed to the development of today's cosmological theories. For instance, in page 98 one can read Hubble's law might just as easily have been called Lemaître's law, since Lemaître, although under much more theoretical terms, had proposed an equivalent velocity-distance relationship two years earlier than Hubble.

Elaborated equations or heavy scientific arguments are not presented in this book, which makes it highly recommendable for anyone who is not a specialist but interested in understanding modern cosmology. Several elucidative notes and a glossary of specific terms, as well as a list of commented bibliography, are very helpful for those who may find some difficulty in dominating the inherent scientific language.

Unfortunately, a few details are not strictly accurate, but surely neither they interfere with the historic and scientific coherence of the book nor do they diminish its outstanding value as a source of pleasurable reading.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary biography! 6 Oct 2005
By Phil Hall - Published on
John Farrell's fascinating and compelling biography of the Belgian priest who one-upped Einstein and laid the foundation of new branch of science is simply wonderful. Written with a vibrancy that is uncommon for scientific biographies, Farrell has brought forth a true-life story of an unlikely hero who looked to the stars and found the secret of the universe. It doesn't get better than this. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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