The Perfect Theory

The Perfect Theory

A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity

eBook - 2014
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"At the core of Einstein's general theory of relativity are a set of equations that explain the relationship among gravity, space, and time--possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. For over a century, physicists have been exploring, debating, and at times neglecting Einstein's theory in their quest to uncover the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of solar systems, stars, and galaxies. In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, Pedro Ferreira explains the theory through the human drama surrounding it: the personal feuds and intellectual battles of the biggest names in twentieth-century physics, from Einstein and Eddington to Hawking and Penrose. We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory engagingly reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780547554907
Branch Call Number: E-BOOK
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xv, 288 pages)

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Apr 07, 2016

A good primer on the history of the theories of gravity.

Nov 08, 2014

Not a particularly stimulating read. Basically a history of the general theory of relativity but with not much technical insight. It would be nice to know things like what the equations looked like, what assumptions led to the equations, and how it was possible to just add or remove a “cosmological constant”. Cosmology is an odd science because you can’t actually do experiments to test your theories except once in awhile you observe something in the cosmos. So, it explained the precession in Mercury’s orbit, light bending around massive objects, and black holes. The discussion about the need for dark matter and dark energy that we can’t see is brief and not particularly convincing. Who is to say that our observations of stuff millions of light years away isn’t affected by something we don’t know like a changing speed of light? But let’s posit dark energy and dark matter that make up most of the universe but we can’t see; and add back in the arbitrary cosmological constant. In again out again. I guess it’s not Ferreira’s fault that the theory sounds flaky when described in a historical context.

It may be difficult to give much technical insight about general relativity in a book of this type, but it would be nice then to get interesting stories about the people involved. The book mentions a large number of people who worked on the theory and experiments over the years, but not with much personal insight or interesting stories. The chapter on gravitational waves was interesting because of the way Weber’s behavior was described in some detail. The last two chapters were more personal because the author mentioned himself and some of his own interactions with people. Otherwise, no interesting stores.

I had to wait quite a while to get the book and I found it not that exciting. I liked much better the approach taken by Marcia Bartusiak in her book "Archives of the Universe" where each chapter highlighted the life of a particular scientist and then showed a copy of their seminal paper on the subject.


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