on 11 April 2008
This is Dr. Pickover's first scientific book since his "A Beginner's Guide to Immortality" and "The Mobius Strip" writings of 2006. After over a year of pursuing science fiction, the author has provided us with a work that was worth waiting for. This is his best yet.
Archimedes to Hawking is no dry listing of scientific laws. Yes, it does have the important laws of science and the runners-up which Pickover generously calls the "Great Contenders." The reason that the book runs to five hundred pages is that Pickover describes the lives and works of the lawgivers. These are not just people who showed up. Their biographies show that they worked at it. "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."
Although the illustrations appear to be more for decoration than explanation, some are quite stunning. I particularly liked Bode's Virgo and Hooke's Flea, even if they have nothing to do with the laws named for those two. More illustrations like those would have been nice.
The author's approach is interesting. The laws are arranged chronologically. Archimedes is the first, but we have to skip almost two millennia to the Renaissance to find the next. The Industrial Revolution then brings the bulk of the science. There is very little past the turn of the twentieth century. Only three of the scientists named in this collection are still alive. Perhaps we have stopped naming scientific laws after people because we regard the laws of nature more as discovery than personal invention, or maybe it is that we are so expectant of future refinements that we now distrust the concept of the immutable law.
The geography of the lawgivers is mostly European. The bulk of the laws are attributed to French, English, and German physicists and chemists. Americans are fourth in number, but only if you include the runner-up category.
Although Pickover is not a physicist by training, he shows that he understands the thought process of the physicist. He shows their quest for understanding of the principles of the universe, the search for the beauty and symmetry of nature.
Even more, Pickover has learned to think like a physicist. Pickover gives a rational explanation for his inclusion of works in the great laws and the runner-up categories. Many people may be surprised to find that Maxwell's Equations do not have a chapter of their own but share the Faraday chapter, while relatively obscure works are included, even one of the runners-up that mentions my name. Pickover explains that the individual laws that make up Maxwell's Equations were developed by other people: Ampere, Faraday, Gauss. For a book like this it is necessary to make choices. The author explains his reasoning in a convincing manner. You may argue with his choices, but I think that if he errs, it is mostly on the side of inclusion, not exclusion.
I do not think that you have to be a physicist or chemist to appreciate this book, but some formal science training may help you to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the equations. I see this book becoming a standard reference work for those who study the physical sciences or the history of science. Or you may just like it for the joy of the science and the history.
Note: This book has been available from Amazon in the US since the beginning of April, 2008.
on 9 May 2010
"Laws of science and the Great Minds Behind them. Archimedes to Hawkins" by a Clifford A.Pickover. It must be great I thought and with 500 pages. Note the phrases - "laws of science", "great minds" etc. Much of the laws mentioned can be read in any upper secondary / highschool science book. If you buy this book to understand science better, then you will be disappointed. About one third of the book, is about science and the rest is about the scientists past history, of their families and so on. There are 4 drawings or illustrations in the whole book. They are - the Archimedes screw, frontpage of a book of Daniel Bernoulli's Hydrodynamica ( publised in 1738), Keplers model of the solar system and a drawing of a flee by Robert Hooke. God help us, why on earth should we have a reproduced drawing of a front page of a book and of a large drawing of a flee which has nothing to do with the substance he talks about? On Archimedes, there are 10 pages, including the drawing that takes quarter of the page. There are anecdotes about how Hooke and Newton disliked each other or another scientist was bullied as a child and stories of their families or family life. Much of the science is devoted to scientists of the early past and not much at all to recent giants like Einstein, Hawkins, although HAWKIN'S name is displayed in the front cover (maybe to attract - and it is misleading). Hawkins and most of the recent great scientists are mentioned in passing or only a half a page is devoted to them. That could well be because this man is not a scientist (it is said that he is a prolific inventor) and has difficulty in understanding more complex scientific ideas, let alone explaining them. He himself says that the "equation based entries were chosen in consultation with scientific colleagues". Is he implying then that he is a scientist ? If he is a scientist, why not mention that on the book sleeve, instead we are told that he an inventor and has written many books. I as a man, noted, that there is not a single entry on women. What a man-centred man he is. I think they are also called male chauvanists ? Marie Curie is mentioned though and in passing as the wife of Pierre Curie ( 14 pages on him though).
This is not a book for people who want to know more about science they already know from upper secondary school or high school, despite the boastful and the lofty title of the book. This is a book for those who fell asleep in science classes or it is a "coffee-table" type of book that you leave there, to impress friends who come to dinner. Don't buy it if you want to know of science or the ideas that lie in the great minds (as he claims). Don't be fooled by its pompous and lofty title. I think it is a rip off by a Mr.Ripover.