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The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments [Paperback]

George Johnson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 May 2009
George Johnson tells the stories of ten beautiful experiments which changed the world. From Galileo singing to mark time as he measured the pull of gravity and Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his own eye, to Joule packing a thermometer on his honeymoon to take the temperature of waterfalls and Michelson recovering from a dark depression to discover that light moves at the same speed in every direction - these ten dedicated men employed diamonds, dogs, frogs and even their own bodies as they worked to discover the laws of nature and of the universe.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099464586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099464587
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 146,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Entertaining, finely crafted... there is a feast of fine science writing in this gem of a book" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Johnson's essays balance human interest and scientific wonder in equal measure, making for a delicious succession of vignettes" (Guardian)

"Johnson's lively book... finds beauty throughout science - even among dead frogs and drooling dogs" (Scotsman)

"Johnson manages to convey the heart-stopping wonder of discovery" (Radio 4, Today programme)

"In describing these beautifully simple works of genius, Johnson reveals as much about the corporatist nature of modern science as he does about early research" (Scotland on Sunday)

Book Description

One of the world's finest science journalists tells the story of the ten greatest scientific experiments - which in a moment profoundly changed our understanding of the universe.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
If you like those wonderful articles in the science section of The New York Times, you've undoubtedly read Mr. Johnson's writing before. Reading this book is like gaining access to a whole collection of the best of such articles.

I've always preferred experimental evidence to theorizing as a way to advance knowledge. Many things can be better understood, both in and out of scientific fields, if thoughtful experiments can be designed and properly measured.

Many science courses emphasize what the law of physics is or whatever is being studied and provide little perspective on the evidence for that law or natural function. That's too bad: In the process, those who are interested in the subject miss the chance to gain a deep appreciation for the subject.

George Johnson does an excellent job of providing pithy, clear, and interesting histories of the scientists, the problems they addressed, and the experiments they used to advance knowledge. Some of these stories were more compelling than any television drama I've ever seen.

Prior to the rebirth of inquiry in the Renaissance, Greek theories about how the world works often dominated. Those theories had to be overcome. In some cases, equally arbitrary theories were proposed by more modern scientists. The search for new knowledge almost always began with observing something in nature that didn't follow the "rule" that everyone else believed in.

The section on Galileo will quickly get your attention because Mr. Johnson dispels the notion of dropping weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa in favor of describing how an inclined plane was used by Galileo to measure acceleration of a rolling ball.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The needle in Newton's eye 14 Jun 2008
Format:Hardcover
Most books skip over the details of famous experiments, because the results are what counts. How many people, for instance, know how exactly Ivan Pavlov measured his dogs salivating after ringing a bell? George Johnson gives the answer in this enjoyable book. Pavlov operated on his dogs, so the saliva would be led to a tube outside the dog's mouth.

The anekdotes mr Johnson dishes up range from the charming to the engrossing. The thought of Isaac Newton poking around in his eyesockets with a blunt needle to see what effects this would cause, is, well, rather gross. There's also plenty of room for details on character and contemporary circumstances of the ten protagonists: Galilei, Harvey, Newton, Lavoisier, Galvini, Faraday, Joule, Pavlov, Michelson and Millikan.

What this book is lacking, is science. The physical basics of the experiments are barely explained, just enough to understand what they are about. Mr Johnson clearly set out to amuse rather than educate - which is fine, of course, as long as readers know what to expect.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 5 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Started well then lost its way... 7 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The first two are real page turners, fascinating insights into how discoveries are made, then gradually it became rather dull and by the last two it felt he'd lost interest. The fact that none of the experiments were by a woman was unnecessarily sexist.
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