cover image Boltzmann's Tomb: Travels in Search of Science

Boltzmann's Tomb: Travels in Search of Science

Bill Green. Bellevue Literary Press, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-934137-35-2

Readers who prefer skimming a topic to immersion should enjoy Green's (Water, Ice & Stone) slim and thoughtful journeys to key places in the history of science. Green, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at Miami University in Ohio, starts with Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, the brilliant but depressed scientist whose certainty about the then-unpopular theory of "atomism" (the idea that all matter was made of smaller bits) led to his suicide in 1906. For Green, Boltzmann reveals "what it meant to be a scientist, what it meant to be life-and-death passionate about an idea." Copernicus's defiance of papal authority to insist that the Earth orbited the Sun, followed by the precision work of Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo's astronomical observations, all reveal that, for scientists, data trumped a priori belief. Moving from astronomy to chemistry, Green reviews Lavoisier's painstaking work with gases and how Dmitri Mendeleev found a way to order the elements. Green's route meanders, but his writing is always graceful, often lyrical. This is science by way of Camus (whom Green enjoys citing), a book "about time and chance and dreams we bring with us and which shape who we are and what we become." Photos. (June)