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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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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)
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.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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. While he (probably wisely) continues to omit the details of the theoretical developments themselves, he gives us far too much detail of how this person, and then that person, and then this other person, made some small addition to the understanding of general relativity. This part just seemed to go on for an unnecessarily long time – it was a bit like one of those endless Oscars speeches.
The narration starts to pick up again with gravitational waves. The sad rise and fall of Joseph Weber is very well chronicled, though I think Ferreira is over generous on the matter of LIGO, the extremely expensive gravity wave detector that has never detected anything. He is relentlessly optimistic that the upgrade will succeed – which is not a universal view by any means – and says nothing about the very interesting problems of detection which have all too often produced spurious results.
Finally, at the end, the book got really interesting again – and here, I think, Ferreira spent far too little time. This was particularly the case with the short chapter on alternatives to and developments of general relativity like MOND and TeVeS. This area could usefully have taken up a third of the book, rather than a single short chapter. Overall, though, a worthwhile addition to the popular science canon on gravity, quantum theory and cosmology.
But if you want to understand importance of people like Stephen Hawking then this book is a very good introduction