14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This captivating book deals with the ability of the scientific method to explain the wondrous nature of the universe. The author's elegant style, clear explanations and understated humour ensure an engaging read. Atkins has chosen 10 simple concepts of great import that manifest into a giant tree of application. With its patient explanations, it is an excellent guide for the lay reader to become literate in modern sciene. The major insights of modern science discussed here are evolution, DNA, energy, entropy, atoms, symmetry, quanta, cosmology, spacetime and arithmetic. The book includes black and white photographs and illustrations, a bibliography arranged by chapter and an index. Galileo's Finger is the perfect guide for those who wish to understand science more clearly.
37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2003
De Rerum Natura badly needed updating. And Atkins's masterly survey of the great ideas of science contains echoes of Lucretius's classic work in its breadth, ambition, confidence, and clarity of exposition (also, occasionally, in the same imperiousness of tone - my one small complaint). But the similarities stop there. The ideas represented in this modern, scientific summary of the nature of things have been tested, sharpened, honed by experiment. Experiment, and generalization and abstraction, the powerful moulding agents of science's conceptual landscapes, form the underlying themes of this book. They are perhaps better epitomized by Galileo's inclined plane than his finger (it would not have made a catchy title). While Atkins's earlier work, Creation, had a rarefied elegance, in Galileo's Finger he deploys the remarkable gift for explanation that has made his textbooks so hugely successful. That makes Galileo's Finger a wonderfully accessible handbook of the key ideas of modern science. But to describe it in these terms alone would be to miss its spirit and driving force, which can be distilled into one short statement: from supreme simplicity does complexity arise.
This book is about the handful of simple but intensely powerful insights that lie at the heart of our whole modern understanding of the world. Their reach is breathtaking. Packed into this book are evolution, quantum theory, thermodynamics (never underestimate the significance of thermodynamics), the conservation laws and the deep symmetries of which they are a manifestation, string theory, number theory, spacetime. The journey takes us through landscapes at vastly different scales, and increasing levels of abstraction, right into science's mathematical soul. There are highly complex ideas here - too complex for the non-specialist to confront directly. But when viewed, like the Pleiades, surreptitiously from the side, via analogies and judicious simplifications, their basic forms can be grasped, and their significance and implications appreciated. Spreading light over such wide-ranging landscapes is no mean feat. And Atkins is not only a reliable and authoritative guide. He displays an Epicurean fearlessness in confronting the vertiginous, sometimes bleak, vistas that open up before us that is exhilarating. The result is a book that offers an astonishingly rich feast of knowledge and leaves us inspired and wanting more. Read it if your background is science. Read it, even more, if it is not.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This title was on my A-Level reading list, along with several other titles that on reflection I would recommend over it.
The ideas are complex and in some cases extremely abstract but are explained in a great deal of detail with a great array of very helpful diagrams.
The writing (or should I say teaching) style is sometimes a little (and sometimes extremely) patronising, which for me is one reason why A Short History of Nearly Everything is much better indeed.
There have been a couple of attempts by the author to inject small amounts of humour, of which a small percentage are indeed funny whilst the remainder are just irritating distractions.
What was really disappointing, however, was the quality of the prose. It was as if I had been sent an uncorrected proof (as if from the Vine Programme). Typographical and grammatical errors were rife - particularly within the first few chapters. For an author to be so condescending and yet not bother to have his book adequately proofed is irritating beyond belief.
on 17 October 2014
I love this book! So interesting and covers all of the main areas of science in an clear, concise and interesting way!
I recommend! Great Gift too! Good Value and Good delivery
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 20 August 2004
This book should be approached cautiously, like an unexploded bomb. If you open it and let it go off it will radically rearrange your worldview but in a largely chaotic way.
Let me start by being positive - at several points Atkins helped trigger a dim glimmer of understanding, if only a helpful intuition, in my head where previously there had been only darkness. But in general much of the content will baffle anyone who is not a bright science undergraduate (and in several disciplines). The author seems to have no clear view of his audience and is seriously inconsistent: at times he assumes esoteric knowledge and involves new ideas and factual information to which we have had no introduction; at others he makes a meal of points probably understood by most school students. His use of analogy is a good try but at times the 'scaffolding' creaks alarmingly. I came across two inexcusably lax errors that either author or editor should have caught - there may of course be more I didn't spot. And although the author does occasionally employ a nice turn of phrase, I cannot see his prose warrants Dawkin's suggestion that it merits Laureate status.
This last, coupled with Atkins' frequent patronising claim to be our 'careful guide' leads me to suspect a micky take, and that that the eleventh 'great idea' intrinsic but not explicit in the book is the impossibility of adequately communicating much of modern science to a non-technical audience.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Some of the press reviews suggest that this is for the general reader. However, even with a degree in Science, I found some the explanations quite hard-going, and I think the general reader might be disappointed or frustrated, hence why I give it 3 rather than 4 stars.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2007
I can only surmise that the bulk of reviewers of this wonderful book are ersatz intellectuals - Galileo's Finger counts as one of the most exciting, lively and enlightening popular science books I have come across. Atkins writes with a fizz, vim and clarity that beguile you into complex spaces where startling ideas and deep insight ballet within your reach. The reviewer below is undoubtedly right - you patently do need to be a bright student with an interest in science to appreciate this book. Go figure!
If you tick the boxes, buy it. Only Pinker and Deutsch rival Atkins, in my view, for acuity and penetration of the reserves of earthly knowledge.
9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2003
As a student doing a degree in chemistry, Peter Atkins name is hallowed ground. Therefore I went out and bought his book, mainly for the reviews it had on it's cover.
Ten great ideas of science? They are the authors choice, but I had a hard time getting through this (In case it got better)and looked forward to finishing it.
The chapters that i had some previous knowledge about where easier to follow than the ones i didn't, but saying that they quickly got difficult. It is not the fact that the ideas as such are complicated, it is the heavy way that Mr Atkins feels he must describe them. A weight which i am finding more and more in his textbooks. He is not the easiest author to read when he is writing in a textbook, but he brings this to a new level when he is writing a general science book.
This is not a book for the faint hearted and should surely come with a warning that you should have a degree, or better, several. Then you may enjoy it more. If it is a popular science book you want to read, which has a few jokes get "How to clone the perfect blonde" It is faster paced and a hell of a lot funnier.
Peter Atkins has gonen down in my eyes.
15 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2004
I agree with the first two reviewers, and especially with the acid but justified observation regarding the Dawkins quote on the back cover. This was my first Atkins book, and as John Miles once had it, it shall be my last.
The man's prose style is pompous, sometimes ponderous, and quite lacking in that clarity and elegance which marks out works by Dawkins himself.
Worse still, having said that his aim was to focus on key modern scientific ideas, and having made what seem to be a good choice of said ideas,
I was frustrated by the absence of good exploration of the ideas and their proofs, and the focus on unnecessary mechanical detail.
For instance, he opens up a chapter on symmetry by stating without any attempt to show how that there are only 5 possible 1 dimensional pattern repeats, and 17 possible 2D ones. There is space to show them - in tiny grey-and-white illustrations - but not to try to walk through an illustrated proof.
Ah yes, those pictures. Prof Atkins says he drew nearly all of them himself. Well, they are technically competent so far as I can see, but I wish the publisher had got him to use a proper graphic artist and even, maybe, some colour. Three shades of grey to separate layers of atoms in complicated lattice diagrams that are anyway far too small - no, thank you! Oh, and the hardback edition I was bought for Christmas had a distressingly high level of typos too - I assume the poor proofer at OUP, doubtless an underemployed Eng Lit graduate from down the road, had glazed over by Chapter 2.
All very frustrating as the man clearly has a wide grasp of important concepts and some ability to communicate them. But not well, not here. Avoid.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2007
On amazon.com this book scores very highly, with all the reviews (with the exception of one repeated review) being 4 or 5 stars. This makes me think, maybe Americans could care less about the "tone" of the prose. I mean, come on! Someone is writing about the laws of quantum mechanics, which may well be fundamental to every physical phenomenon, and all you care about is the prose?
Target audience is always a problem with popular science books and this is no exception. Not everything can be explained simply. The discussion of the interpretation of quantum mechanics is confused and confusing, but then, so is much of the relevant literature (I myself don't see what's wrong with "shut up and calculate").
The discussion of arithmetic is particularly confused, because it is never made clear (and I suspect the writer did not have it clear in his head either) exactly what is meant by "arithmetic". [In what follows I shall use the word Arithmetic to refer to common arithmetic, Peano arithmetic to refer to Peano arithmetic, and arithmetic to refer to Atkins' use of the word "arithmetic"].
Sometimes it seems like he means Arithmetic in the common sense, that is, the collection of statements about natural numbers that are true in the standard interpretation (a.k.a. number theory). But sometimes it seems like he means Peano arithmetic, which is a specific formal axiomatic system, a fragment of the former Arithmetic. These two things are not to be identified - there are number theoretical facts which are not a part of Peano arithmetic. This confusion doesn't really rear its head until the end of chapter 10, when Atkins concludes that the universe is made of arithmetic, so Godel's theorem applies to the universe, and the universe cannot prove itself consistent because arithmetic cannot prove itself consistent. If arithmetic here means Peano arithmetic, then it might make some sense. But there is no reason to think that all the mathematics that nature makes use of can be formalised in Peano arithmetic (this would exclude fairly elementary combinatorial statements, for one thing). If Atkins means by "arithmetic" the common Arithmetic, which I suspect he does, then what he wrote does not make sense. Godel's theorems do not apply to Arithmetic. In fact it is senseless to talk of the consistency of Arithmetic. One cannot define what Arithmetic is, so one cannot lay out a statement asserting the consistency of it.