on 29 March 2003
Inspired by the fact that the universe is ever expanding,
Aczel wrote the history from Einstein to the present
of the thoughts around Einsteins cosmic constant. The main
part deals with Einsteins struggles with his main equation
and the discovery of the first proof for general relativity,
the bending of star light around the sun. This history part
is presented in kind of zooming in at those times and people,
so that one temporarely becomes part of the times of the
process of verificaton and recognition of general relativity.
From the statements about the cosmic constant the author
then leads the reader into modern times, but this time rather
zoomed out, mentioning many people an theories.
It's all gripping to read, but one does not get answers about
the phenomena which introduced the book, namely, how the
universe could possibly accelerate it's expansion.
on 7 December 2003
Aczel's first book, Fermat's Last Theorem, received deservedly high praise although it deals with an historical curiosum. God's Equations is an account of Einstein achievements, a far more difficult subject on which the popular literature is considerable. Aczel's gift is to tell a good story simply without losing substance, and although this book is less easily accessible than his first, it is arguably better.
Einsten's first contribution in 1905---the special theory of relativity which says is essence that the speed of light is constant regardless of how fast the source of light moves towards or away from the observer---is set out simply and clearly as are its scientific antecedents; ie, the advances in physics (Michelson-Morley), non-Euclidian geometry (Riemann, Grossman), and mathematics (Gauss, Minkowski) which underlay the Special theory and, crucially, the later General Theory. The latter was published in the late 1920s and in effect links the Special Theory to Gravity, producing what is referred to today as the first unified field equation.
Two further points are worthy of mention. One is Aczel's extraordinary grasp of the history of science; to take but one example, Aczel traces the progress of Euclidian geometry from ancient Greece via Ptolemy of Alexandria and the Persian mathematician, Nasiraddin, its smuggling Cordoba by Adelhart of Bath in the 12th Century, from whence it was published in Latin in Venice in 1482. The second is Aczel's account of the relevance of Einstein achievements to the breathtaking world of modern physics and cosmology. All this is accomplished with the greatest simplicity in the space of just over 200 pages.
In this book, Aczel proposes that Einstein's Cosmological Constant, discarded and by the genius himself considered his greatest blunder, is in fact an integral part of the equation that defines the nature of the universe, its past and its future. Some mysterious force is accelerating the expansion of the universe, pushing out on space, countering gravity and making the universe accelerate towards infinity. Aczel argues that in addition to the four known forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and the strong nuclear forces, there is a fifth: the cosmological constant which is the quintessence of the universe. He spoke to many experts in the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy and cosmology and integrated the ideas of prominent scientists like Eddington, Penrose and Grossman. The chapters deal with stuff like Euclid's Riddle, Riemann's Metric, the expansion of space, the nature of matter and the geometry of the universe but it also serves as a type of biography of Einstein and a history of the development of his theories. There are quotes from Einstein' work and the text is enlivened by portraits, photographs and illustrations. Although an engaging and thought provoking text, it is sometimes difficult to grasp all of the intricacies as there are many formulas that a non-mathematician would not understand. Nevertheless a uniquely stimulating work that concludes with a helpful bibliography and thorough index. I also recommend Marcus Chown's The Universe Next Door, Mark Ward's Universality: Beyond Chaos and Martin J. Rees' Before The Beginning: Our Universe And Others.
on 4 September 2000
I was surprised to find that this book was not as technical as I expected. Much of it is biographical but gradually blends into the more complicated and perplexing findings of Einstein and others. For this reason I found the book enjoyable and interesting as well as stimulating. Those looking for glimpse into the life and insights of Einstein or for those with an interest in physics and cosmology, I would suggest this book .