The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

Robert P. Crease, Author . Norton $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-393-06204-5

Although most people can recite Einstein's famous little equation, even if we don't know quite what it means, who has heard of the 18th-century mathematician Leonhard Euler, let alone know anything at all about his famous equation? Crease, a Stony Brook philosophy professor and popular science writer, has already taken on “the ten most beautiful experiments in science” in The Prism and the Pendulum , and in this enjoyable book he explores 10 rather beautiful equations. He begins with the beguiling simplicity of the equation that bears Pythogoras' name (although he says the Greek wasn't the first to discover it) and moves on to Newton's second law of motion and law of universal gravitation, the second law of thermodynamics, Maxwell's celebrated equations, discoveries by Einstein and Schrödinger and, finally, Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle. Crease explains the significance of each of these formulas for science and, in brief “interludes” between chapters, explores the “journeys” these scientists took “from ignorance to knowledge,” and the “social lives” of their theories—their impact on the larger culture. Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place. 43 illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/06/2008
Release date: 01/01/2009
Paperback - 315 pages - 978-0-393-33793-8
Open Ebook - 315 pages - 978-0-393-34576-6
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