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The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity Hardcover – 4 Feb 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (4 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408703106
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408703106
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pedro G. Ferreira is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and a fellow and tutor in Physics at Oriel College, Oxford. He has held research positions at the University of California at Berkeley, at CERN in Geneva and visiting positions at the University of Geneva, the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, Princeton University, the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara and the Galileo Galilei Institute in Florence. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and has held a University Research Fellowship of the Royal Society.
He has published over 120 papers in international journals and conference proceedings, has delivered over 150 talks at universities, institutes and conferences all over Europe, America, Asia and Africa. His area of expertise is Cosmology, the Early Universe and Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. He has pioneered research in the relic radiation left over from the Big Bang, the nature of the dark Universe (such as dark matter and dark energy) and has led the way in studying alternatives to Einstein's theory of General Relativity. He has given public interviews and lectures all over the world and is regularly invited onto television to comment on Einstein's theories, black holes, the Big Bang and the beauty of mathematics.
Pedro G. Ferreira has written extensively outside academia, popularizing science. His book "State of the Universe" (W&N 2006, Phoenix, 2007), a primer in modern cosmology, was widely reviewed and is now required reading on a number of undergraduate cosmology courses. He has written for Nature, Science, New Scientist, Physics World, Physics Today, Scientific American, Sky at Night, CERN Courier, BBC Focus, The Guardian. His most recent book, "The Perfect Theory: a Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity" was published by Harcourt (US), Little Brown (UK) and is being translated and published in thirteen more countries.

Product Description


Prof Ferreira is an outstanding storyteller, and the tales here reveal more about how science really works than any number of textbooks (BBC Focus)

You couldn't ask for a better guide to the outer reaches of the universe and the inner workings of the minds of those who've navigated it (Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford and author of The Music of the Primes)

Einstein's beautiful theory is almost a century old, and its ramifications have stimulated a crescendo of discovery ever since. It is now, more than ever, one of the liveliest frontiers of science. Pedro G. Ferreira describes, accessibly and non-technically, how the key breakthroughs have been made, and the personalities who made them. Even readers with zero scientific background will enjoy this finely written survey of one of the greatest of recent scientific endeavours, and get a real feel for the social and human aspects of science (Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal)

This is a fascinating introduction to our present understanding of space, time, and gravity, and to the confusion about how to go about finding a still better theory. Ferreira tells the story without equations or graphs, just well-chosen words about the science and how it grew. I particularly recommend the sketches of scientists in all their curious variety of character traits (James E. Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus. Professor of Physics, Emeritus)

Pedro G. Ferreira's The Perfect Theory is especially welcome. It provides us with an enthralling account of the ideas and personalities of those who were involved (Sir Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College)

Einstein's general relativity is a theory of unrivaled elegance and simplicity. But the history of general relativity is messy, unpredictable, and occasionally dramatic. Pedro G. Ferreira is an expert guide to the twists and turns scientists have gone through in a quest to understand space and time (Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe)

The Perfect Theory is a rollicking good read. We watch as Einstein's brilliant successors struggle and squabble about everything from black holes to quantum gravity. With crisp explanations and narrative flair, Ferreira offers us a fun, fresh take on a magnificent part of modern science (Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x)

Pedro G. Ferreira portrays a community ensnared by a single great idea. His telling is incredibly thorough while still beautiful, deeply considered and affecting. With vivid detail, he brings to life the awesome story of one of humanity's greatest achievements (Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College, Columbia University and author of How the Universe Got Its Spots)

With palpable delight, Ferreira details false starts, chance discoveries, and the vindication of long-ridiculed ideas that emerged from the work that predicted singularities, M-theory, and dark energy . . . Ferreira's clear explanations offer a wonderful look into a world of those who tackle the hard math that is "the key to understanding the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of . . . the cosmos." (Publishers Weekly)

No book better prepares armchair physicists for the intellectual excitement ahead! (Booklist)

One of the best popular accounts of how Einstein and his followers have been trying to explain the universe for decades (Kirkus Reviews)

Pedro G. Ferreira offers an accessible history of Einstein's theory of relativity in The Perfect Theory. (Arminta Wallace Irish Times, Highlights of 2014)

The Perfect Theory is a perfect guide for this most beloved branch of modern physics. (Sam Kean The Wall Street Journal)

A 'biography' of Einstein's brainchild for those with a smattering of science and next to no mathematics . . . Ferreira lucidly sketches several attempts to generalize Einstein's theory, including string theory, which both describes gravity and offers an explanation of why it exists (Graham Farmelo Nature)

Pedro G. Ferreira offers an accessible history of Einstein's theory of relativity (Irish Independent)

Book Description

An engaging popular history of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, taking in the sheer magnificence of its discovery, as well as the infighting that the theory sparked across a century.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Despite the quote from Marcus du Sautoy on the front referring to this book by astrophysics professor Pedro Ferreira as a ‘guide to the outer reaches of the universe’, this is far more a book about what goes on in human brains – and specifically the development and partial solutions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which turned our understanding of the nature of gravitation upside down.

For me it’s a three bears porridge book. We start off with a section that’s just right, then get a bit that’s far too long and end with a bit that’s far too short. (Okay, I know, the porridge was about temperature, not length, but this wasn’t supposed to be taken literally.) That ‘just right’ opening section gives us Einstein’s work and specifically the development of his masterpiece, the ‘perfect theory’, the general theory of relativity.

This takes a totally opposite approach to, say, Cox and Forshaw’s The Quantum Universe. Where that book does not shy away from presenting difficult detail, Ferreira’s swift, breezy and very readable style wafts us through without any detail at all. Biographically this results in a sanitisation of Einstein’s life (for instance, his first child is never mentioned, and Ferreira makes it sound as if he divorced his first wife before becoming romantically entangled with his cousin). Taking the advice given to Stephen Hawking literally, Ferreira doesn’t show a single equation, not even the central equation of general relativity. I think this is a pity – it is perfectly possible to explain what’s going on there without doing the maths. But his approach does make for an easy read.

The centre section is where Ferreira gets boggled down.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Simon on 25 Oct. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting and scientific in the correct proportions! Suitable for those with some prior physics understanding
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 21 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very good take on a well-worn topic. Very enjoyable read.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Leif Johansen on 26 Jun. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A interesting og good book, Some historical differences between general relativity and quantum physics are low priority ( the clash between Einstein and Bohr at Solway conferences and the Aspect experiment)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 65 reviews
56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
The story of general relativity, and what makes something a science 6 Feb. 2014
By Ash Jogalekar - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pedro Ferreira's book "The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity" essentially tells us what other people did with Einstein's general theory of relativity after he developed it. While one chapter is devoted to Einstein's hard struggle with learning the non-Riemannian geometry and building the field equations that define the theory, the book really takes off after 1917 when a series of men and women discovered the awesome implications of these equations. The book is a fast read and it does a very good job portraying the colorful personalities and exciting discoveries unearthed by general relativity.

By 1919 the theory had been well-established as part of the scientific enterprise, especially after it retrodicted the correct value of the perihelion of mercury and predicted the bending of starlight observed by Arthur Eddington, a discovery that splashed Einstein's name on the front pages of the world's leading newspapers. Eddington was Einstein's heir, thoroughly learning the theory and grasping its implications for stellar structure. Ironically he did not dare to take these implications to their logical conclusion. That task was left to a young Indian astrophysicist named Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar who paved the way toward the discovery of black holes by considering what happens when stars run out of fuel and collapse under gravitational contraction. Famously Eddington rebuked Chandrasekhar's findings and revealed himself to be much like Einstein, a revolutionary in young age and a reactionary in old age.

The story of black holes is one important thread that the book follows. Chandrasekhar's ideas were further developed by Lev Landau, Fritz Zwicky and Robert Oppenheimer in the 30s. Oppenheimer's story is especially interesting since he was the one who theoretically discovered black holes but later completely dissociated himself from them, showing no interest in general relativity until the end of his life. In fact Oppenheimer's view of relativity was similar to that of the vast majority of physicists who were caught up in the revolutions in nuclear and quantum physics in the 30s and 40s. Quantum mechanics and particle physics were the new frontiers; relativity was a speculative backwater.

It was the eminent Princeton University physicist John Wheeler who picked up where Oppenheimer had left off. Wheeler is really the father of modern relativity since he was the one who rejuvenated interest in the topic in the 50s and 60s. Many of his students like Jacob Bekenstein and Kip Thorne became leaders in the field. In Britain the field was fathered by Dennis Sciama, whose students Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking led the way in understanding singularities and the Big Bang. Hawking especially forged a very important link between information, relativity, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics through his exploration of what we now call the "black hole information paradox".

Hawking's work on singularities connects to the second major thread of the book, this time involving the applications of general relativity to the entire universe. The story begins right after Einstein developed his framework when Russian bomber pilot Alexander Friedmann and Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre found out that one of the solutions of the equations would be an expanding universe. In a famous mistake which Einstein called "the greatest blunder of my life", Einstein had found this solution but, based on the observation of a locally static universe, had applied a fudge factor - a "cosmological constant"- to halt the expansion which turned out to have great significance almost eight decades later. Lemaitre and Friedmann's story logically leads to that of Edwin Hubble who in 1929 observed the redshifting of galaxies, thereby inaugurating one of the great eras in the exploration of the cosmos. This era culminated in the discovery of dark matter and dark energy and the transformation of cosmology into a precision science, all of which has opened up frontiers undreamt of by Einstein. And Ferreira hopes there's much more in store than can flow from those beautiful equations.

Ferreira is quite adept at describing these two main threads. One of the most important aspects of the development of relativity was the shot in the arm which the theory received from experimental observations of distant objects by radio telescopes made by Martin Ryle, Jocelyn Bell and others. In fact the book underscores the fact that without these observations relativity would have continued to be considered mathematical doodling at worst and speculative science at best. The grounding of relativity in the real world through the discoveries of quasars, pulsars, neutron stars and black holes makes the paramount significance of experimental evidence in lending respectability to a theory quite clear. Personally I would have appreciated it if Ferreira had also considered some other evidence for general relativity, such as the observation of frame-dragging by Gravity Probe B, a technical marvel and a jaw-dropping exercise in accurate measurement if there ever was one.

The last part of the book concerns the quest over the last four decades to combine general relativity with quantum mechanics, an effort that was started by Wheeler and his student Bryce DeWitt in the 60s. The same techniques of field theory that led to such spectacular successes in particle physics - culminating in the Standard Model - failed abysmally when applied to relativity. One possible way out is string theory whose virtue is that gravity emerges naturally from the theoretical framework. Another promising framework is loop quantum gravity. The problem with string theory, as well known by now, is that it makes no testable predictions and its solution space is so vast that virtually anything can be accommodated in its expansive embrace. In science, a theory that can explain anything and everything is usually considered a theory that can explain nothing.

One thing that again struck me is how important experiment and observation are for actually taking a theory from a realm of fanciful speculation to hard reality. It's worth comparing the progress of quantum mechanics, general relativity and string theory in this context. Quantum mechanics was fully developed in the 1920s and immediately explained scores of previously confusing experimental facts. Its success only grew in the 30s and 40s as it was applied to solid-state physics, chemistry and nuclear physics, always amply supported by experiment. The philosophical conundrums in the theory - which we still struggle with - did not harm the theory because of its great experimental success. In contrast, general relativity was developed about ten years earlier. By 1940 or so it had two major experimental predictions to its credit: the bending of starlight and the expansion of the universe. But even by the late 1950s it had not become part of mainstream physics and was considered more mathematics than physics, mainly because the experimental evidence was lacking. As mentioned above, it was only the development of radio astronomy that really put the whole framework on a firm pedestal.

Thus it took quantum mechanics no time at all and relativity almost forty years to become respectable, even when there were two astonishing experimental observations which the latter had successfully predicted. The great difference was the experimental evidence, copious in case of the former and spotty and only slowly emerging in case of the latter. Compared to this, string theory has been around for about forty years and there is still no unambiguous experimental evidence in its favor. Purely on a historical basis this might hint that it may be on the wrong track. There's a reason why Feynman said that the only true test of a scientific theory is experiment.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The Story of an Idea 16 Feb. 2014
By Joseph Devita - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is the story of the Theory of General Relativity, Einstein's explanation of gravity, beginning with its conception in his thought experiments, its being overshadowed by quantum mechanics, its reemergence due to its cosmological significance and finally the inevitable last stage of all scientific theories, its being attacked, adjusted and perhaps ultimately replaced by scientists as they seek to better understand and predict Nature.

Since first studying relativity as a graduate student I have over the many years continued to be fascinated by it, and have read and studied various works on it, including a short book by Einstein which I re-read every few years and which invariably teaches me something new every time. The theory is amazingly seductive to me, something which I have pondered. Perhaps it is the fact that it is the ultimate example of pure reason, epitomized by the image of the young Einstein sitting alone on his lunch break with just a pad, pen and ideas and formulating an almost transcendentally elegant and indeed beautiful physical theory captured by complex but inviting mathematics. Many have tried to encompass Relativity within the intellectual framework which included Freudian psychoanalysis and artistic Cubism in the beginning if the 20th century, but to me it is really a perfect example of classical science as opposed to the post modernism of quantum mechanics with its uncertainty and conceptual ambiguity.

Perhaps the Theory's allure lies in the feeling of satisfaction one gets when even a small part of it is understood. When you begin to grasp the true meaning of spacetime and see why Relativity is considered a geometrical explanation of gravity you cannot help but feel Einstein at your shoulder, smiling, and that is a heady feeling indeed.

Whatever the reason, as this book shows, for over a century Relativity has been the focal point of the work of some of the greatest scientists in history, some who have championed it, others who have sought to reconcile it with quantum theory and a few who have tried to replace it. In the telling this book also reveals aspects of the scientific enterprise many aren't aware of such as the part politics and personal animosity plays, and even the influence of self-interest. We tend to romanticize the scientist, envisioning the objective intellectual who only seeks the truth. When it comes to people nothing is ever that pure or simple.

While this book tells what I found to be an interesting story, one thing it is not is a primer for the science it discusses. I suspect that if you don't already have a fairly decent understanding of relativity, quantum mechanics and cosmology you are going to be either terribly bored or confused, and probably both. While it appears that the author offers simplified explanations of the topics, in truth they are the kind of abbreviated discussions which only familiarity will make understandable.

The book is also relatively [sorry but it was the best word to use!] short and disjointed, with the narrative jumping back and forth in time and location [and yes I realize the irony of this criticism] which means it is also occasionally repetitive. And the last two chapters confused me. In the penultimate one it appears that relativity is fated to be replaced and several possibilities are discussed. In the final chapter however it appears that the theory is the center of a lot of the ongoing research and experiments. Maybe I am just obtuse but this seemed to be a jarring disconnect. However, even given these criticisms, the book is informative and the author writes in a lively and engaging style which moves along at a brisk pace, and it can be read in a day or two.

Who then will read this book? Well leaving out those who just like to sound intelligent and who peruse books like this to pick up a few key phrases to throw out to impress people, I would again say that someone unfamiliar with the subject will just be lost, while an expert will find it too simple with nothing really new presented. That leaves those whom I call dilettantes as defined originally as amateurs who love science or art. That is to say readers interested and acquainted with the subject who will have the knowledge and interest to find this book edifying. For such a reader this book will be the perfect companion to accompany them as they follow the trail of Einstein's perfect theory as it winds its way through the 20th century.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Okay, Good and Bad -- All Together 25 April 2014
By J. R. Trtek - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with anticipation and wound up experiencing, in turn, disappointment, enlightenment and then more disappointment. Ferreira starts out more or less okay, though I think he could have spent more time in the early part of his story illuminating the essence of general relativity with concrete examples and analogies that would have provided a better gut feeling for the theory and its methods. And, if you are a frequent reader of science history, particularly about relativity, you won't find anything really new about the early years of general relativity. The chapter on Oppenheimer's brush with collapsed stars actually seems to spend more time on Oppenheimer the person and his involvement with the Manhattan Project -- reasonably so, I suppose, but it does constitute quite a detour around the main subject of the book. Where this volume gets truly good is in its treatment of the slow renaissance of general relativity in the 1950s and 1960s and on into the 1970s. There's a lot of historical detail about the role of individual researchers, and the theoretical and experimental aspects are described very well. However, the last two or three chapters become amorphous and unfocused. It's at the end that the book falls into the trap that snares so many works in the field of science popularization: Ferreira talks about concepts and methods without ever describing them. It's perhaps an intractable problem, since so much of the understanding lies in the mathematics itself, and physical arguments using the everyday world just can't be used, because the relativistic and quantum worlds are, of coures, not the everyday one. If you want an excellent, brief recounting of general relativity in the three decades from 1950 to 1980, this is certainly a good place to go. For the history before then, this is okay but nothing special. From 1980 onward, there's nothing much to be gained here except a sense of confusion.
45 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Perfect companion for a trip by air or rail; well-written and very interesting 25 Jan. 2014
By M. L Lamendola - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What a great read, and so informative too. It's rare that someone of Ferreira's technical caliber (he's a professor of astrophysics at the prestigious University of Oxford) can also write well. Note that, at the time of this review, he has over 360 published items (e.g., articles, books) and he is cited over 1300 times in other works. Nowhere does he use the title "Doctor," and I couldn't find any reference thereof. But in trying to find it, I was duly impressed with his credentials otherwise. Maybe that's why he's a professor at a major university even if (and that's not certain) he doesn't have a PhD (he might, I just can't verify that).

His writing is excellent, both in style and in technical merit (that is, his grammatical competence is high). Because of this, the book is quite accessible to the lay reader with an interest in something as mind-boggling as the Theory of General Relativity. Rather than trudging through dense text and trying to figure out what the author is saying, readers of this book can enjoy a nicely narrated explanation of what has gone on with the Theory of General Relativity from its inception to where it is today.

In this review, I won't explain anything about this very famous theory. I assume the reader of this review has not been on a deserted island since 1905 and thus has been amply exposed to it through at least some of the pop culture, thousands of articles, common mentions, and even movies that have explained, amplified, or even misrepresented it since that time. If you were stranded on a deserted island all this time, please accept my apologies; I did not mean to slight you.

This book isn't a tutorial on the Theory of General Relativity. Whatever you know of it from the popular culture or the reading of relevant books for the layperson is sufficient background for reading this book. It's really about the human drama that this theory evoked. And that is quite a story. As Ferreira tells us in the Prologue and then shows us through his writing, the Theory of General Relativity has taken on a life of its own. It occupied, or perhaps consumed, many of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. And it is a career topic for many brilliant minds in this century.

In telling this story, Ferreira delves into how science and culture have responded to the Theory of General Relativity. But his focus is mostly on the scientists, with their cliques, battles of ideas, and personal feuds. The intrigues and backstabbing have much in common with a season of the 80's television show Dallas. People who challenged the orthodoxy or the "powers that be" sometimes found their lives destroyed (even though they were right).

What many people don't know is the Theory of General Relativity actually fell by the wayside in the larger physics community, and stayed in the ditch for many years. Then suddenly, it made a big comeback. It's now central to emerging science. As Ferreira so deftly shows us, the Theory of General Relativity has value in taking us further in both physics and cosmology.

When the topic of a book is the Theory of General Relativity, perhaps the most relevant question a reviewer can answer is, "What about the math?" Being a quant myself (MBA, with an engineering undergrad), I happen to like math. Use math to explain something to me, and you help me understand. Except when it comes to the strange, very advance, mind-numbing math used by physicists and their ilk. Count me out. Ferreira does the reader the favor of not trying to prove he's an egghead. There's no math to mystify the reader. Just a great story, well-told.

Just as an example of the threads that Ferreira pursues in this book, consider black holes. These are mentioned in several chapters, and of course you know that means he talks about Stephen Hawking. The drama around this one celestial object makes for a story in itself. It was that story that made Hawking a pop icon. "Hawking radiation" solved a major puzzle regarding black holes.

This book consists of 14 chapters across 235 pages. In addition, it has an informative Prologue, extensive notes, and an impressive bibliography.

Technical note on this review:

I reviewed a paperback Advance Reading Copy for Amazon Vine. Normally, these advance copies are rife with copy editing errors. That was not at all the case with this one. Over the past few years, I've noticed a distinct difference between authors from the UK and those from the USA, in terms of understanding and implementing Standard Written English (SWE). Sad to say, my countrymen do quite poorly in this regard, nearly every time. Ferreira is a UK author, and his writing reflects the much higher standards there.

A disclaimer at the front said there may be corrections. As I write this review, I cannot recall a single error of either a technical or style nature. Well done, Mr. Ferreira.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable book about how the universe goes together 13 Feb. 2014
By Personne - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
We live in a strange universe. We've tried to explain it to ourselves from the very origins of our species. At many points along the way, we've come to realize that there's something not quite right about our descriptions. At the end of the 19th century, we were at one of those impasses. The laws of Isaac Newton had described the world well for two centuries, but there were cracks in the edifice, especially when describing things at planetary scales.

In the first decade of the 20th century, in what was without doubt the most extraordinary act of human intuition ever known, Albert Einstein imagined General Relativity. With only a desktop and some books as a laboratory, he gave us a new universe--one that has proved remarkably robust for a century. Because of its theoretical foundations, as well as its surpassing strangeness, it came in and out of favor. Supplanted for a while by the tidier ideas of a quantum universe, it languished until the evidence began to pour in from satellites, radio telescopes and a new generation of gigantic optics.

But there remain deeper and less tractable problems. The relativistic universe and the quantum universes both work beautifully within their own domains. But they don't quite work together. Once again there are cracks. We have theories of multiverses, of multidimensional strings, of variable laws of gravity--all vying to be the next true explanation. Some may be right. Some will clearly be wrong. All will make your head hurt.

Pedro Ferreira's book covers all of these topics very well, but where I think he really shines is his description of the process. There have been some real characters in this saga: Einstein himself, Paul Dirac, Fritz Zwicky, Arthur Eddington, Edwin Hubble, Stephen Hawing. There are the admirable human virtues of inquisitiveness and persistence, along with the less-admirable traits of tribalism, machismo and pettiness. Often all of these characteristics appear in the same scientist. There are fads, edged out by evidence, growing into other fads. The competition for resources is brutal. Ferreira's approach reminds me of the much-missed Stephen Jay Gould, who knew that we couldn't help but be human. The very intuition that led Einstein into relativity betrayed him when the implications became too strange. There have been so many things in the century of relativity that just couldn't be true: except that they were.

But in John Adams' immortal words "facts are stubborn things". He could have easily said that about the scientific process. A bad idea can only hold sway for so long until its pushed out by incontrovertible evidence. In some future time, Relativity will take its place as the foundation of an even larger and more complete theory, just as Newton's world lives inside Relativity. We'll know when we get there.
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