Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

Mario Livio, Author
Mario Livio. Simon & Schuster, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4391-9236-8
Reviewed on: 06/10/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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Astrophysicist and award-winning author Livio (The Golden Ratio) analyzes ruinous errors of five great scientific minds in the wake of their most prominent discoveries and how those errors have not only propelled scientific breakthroughs, but provide "insights...into the operation of the human mind." Summoning Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein, Livio argues there is no progress without lessons in humility. These thinkers succumbed to moments of fear, pride, stubbornness, and doubt common to all "mere mortals"—to the benefit of elucidating the evolution of life and the universe. Two-time Nobel prize-winning chemist Pauling's flub of basic chemistry catalyzed the discoveries of Watson and Crick; Hoyle, a cosmologist who displayed "pigheaded, almost infuriating refusal" to give up his thoroughly refuted "steady state theory", energized advanced studies of how we exist in space with his controversial ideas; and Einstein, "the embodiment of genius", refused to give up on his cosmological constant, "the most famous fudge factor in the history of science." With humor and precision, Livio reminds us: "Even the most impressive minds are not flawless; they merely pave the way for the next level of understanding." (May)
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