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Dance for Two: Essays Paperback – March 26, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Physicist and novelist (Good Benito) Lightman brings his characteristic sense of wonder and awe to these concise discussions of the origins of the universe. Previously published in two collections of the 1980s (Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe and A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court), these 21 graceful essays combine examinations of how birds fly, theoretical underpinnings of time travel and the gravitational forces impinging on a ballerina, as well as snippets of scientific history?a profile of atomic physicist Niels Bohr, imaginary encounters with Isaac Newton and Thomas Edison?and autobiographical glimpses of Lightman's own scientific career. Several selections are parables or fables, for instance, his whimsical adventures in Ironland, where everything is made of iron, and an evocation of a Persian city whose denizens are unable to leave?a metaphor for how scientists construct or abandon theories. On a more serious note, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Lightman calls for more funding of pure research and explores how we blind ourselves to the dangers nuclear weapons pose to the Earth's survival.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

First, the good news. This book contains some of the best essays from one of the hottest science writers today. Astrophysicist Lightman writes with a fluid, minimalist style that hits home for many readers. His topics are personal and familiar: e.g., how he chose a career in science; the relationship between student and teacher; and the intuitive nature of scientific discovery. It's quality material. The bad news is that all but one of these essays have been published before?twice. They appeared first as magazine pieces and were then anthologized in two books, Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe (1984) and A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court (1986). Lightman's recent novels, Einstein's Dreams (LJ 11/15/92) and Good Benito (LJ 2/1/95), were surprise best sellers, and this book seems like an attempt to cash in on the author's popularity by recycling old material. His newer fans might be interested, but many public libraries already own the material in one form or another. If so, there is no compelling reason to purchase this book.
-?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, Fla.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (March 26, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679758771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679758778
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #657,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Lightman, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences since 1996, is adjunct professor of humanities at MIT. He is the author of several books on science, including "Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe" (1991) and "Origins: The Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists" (with R. Brawer, 1990). His works of fiction include "Einstein's Dreams" (1993), "The Diagnosis" (2000), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and, most recently, "Reunion" (2003).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Last weekend, I was wandering through my local bookstore when I chanced upon Alan P. Lightman's collection of essays DANCE FOR TWO. I remembered reading Lightman's EINSTEIN DREAMS and GOOD BENITO in college over 10 years ago, when I picked them up from the student bookstore because I liked the way the books felt in my hand, and, after reading them, I liked the way Lightman's prose stuck in my memory.
So I added DANCE FOR TWO to my stack of purchases and read it over the last two nights. I was not disappointed.
DANCE FOR TWO is a collection of 24 short essays that Lightman has published over the last 15 years in various magazines and journals. Each essay is written in a economical, nearly austere, style that is reminiscent of the clear, autumn days on the East Coast that must have influenced Lightman. Though the prose is spare and distilled, the essays themselves are strangely moving. In reading, "Smile", a boy-meets-girl story reduced to the mechanics of the eye, ear, and brain, I got choked up when I read the ending lines "All of this is known. What is not known is why, after about a minute, the man walks over to the woman and smiles." I still don't know why I got choked up.
Unfortunately, like any collection of short works, some of the essays that would be quite enjoyable on their own pale in comparisons to the more beautiful siblings. While most of the essays here are excellent, one or two only rise to the merely good.
The subject of these essays is ostensibly about the role of science in everyday human experience, and Lightman does a masterful job of communicating sometimes complex topics into common language. But, as the title of the collection suggests, a dualistic theme pervades throughout the book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 1996
Format: Paperback
Few things are good enough to make me cry. This book
did, and after reading the intro and first chapter. Some
people are born with 'old souls': Lightman is one. A
scientist explains how the universe works lyrically, and
with passion. Some of finest prose on cosmology since
Chaucer. Completely accessible. Damned near perfection.
A keeper. Great material for bedtime stories, for all
ages.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Theodore G. Mihran on March 17, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These 24 essays, written during the past 15 years, were chosen because, on retrospection, they pleased the author. They are sure to please the reader, too. Their stage is the ever-fascinating interface between science and the arts.
Have you ever pondered that the upward force generated by the churning electrons and protons in the molecules of the stage floor opposes and exactly counterbalances the downward force that the weight of the ballerina exerts on the floor? Or that as she completes her leap, the earth's orbit readjusts itself by a trillionth of an atom's width? Lightman has pondered these and other matters, and describes all in graceful, accurate and compelling prose.
Several events in the book, like the building of a bomb shelter, appear in a fictional setting in Lightman's novel "Good Benito," leading me to wonder if other chapters of his first novel are autobiographical, also.
Several humorous essays describe imaginary visits by Newton, Einstein, and others to Lightman's twilight zone. These visits always end with an unexpectd twist, leaving this reader gasping for reality--and for more.
One of Lightman's many perceptive messages can be found on p. 95 where he says, "Science offers little comfort to anyone who asks to leave behind a personal message in his work." Of course, this impersonality is undoubtedly the key to the great success of science. But in bringing his own wry and perceptive slant to 'writing' about science, Lightman is able to have his cake and eat it too, conveying an entertaining message which is both scientifically informative and yet gratifyingly personal.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
Brilliantly written stories whose themes revolve around science and scientists and their interactions with art, society, history and life in general. Gives science a human touch, makes it more personal and approachable to anyone. Makes us think about the universe around us and the lives we lead and how everything untimately ties together. I liked it even more the second time I read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By callie on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
many, if not most, scientists beleive in evolution and that science is the leading force of this universe. Alan Lightman so simply proves it not so. Through everyday circumstances he displays a larger force at work, a demonstration rarely seen, heard, or read. My career is in the science field and the internal battle between science and religion is constant in my life. Now I read 'Smile' and 'In His Image' when I question that. All of these essays are brilliant and insightful. I recommend this book not only to my friends, but my librarian as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By V. Hoffman on February 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
When I was a junior undergrad, a fellow student-a physics major-recommended Alan Lightman's _Einstein's Dreams_ as one of his favorite books. Having had a small taste of physics in a mechanics course that fall, I was hungry for more-especially since we stopped just short of an introduction to relativity. I picked up a copy to read over winter break, and that novel became one of my favorites, as well. Five years later, I've finally gotten around to reading more of Lightman's work.

_Dance for Two_ is a collection of essays centered on the interplay, differences, and similarities between science and art. "It seems to me," Lightman observes, "that in both science and art we are trying desperately to connect with something-this is how we achieve universality. In art, that something is people, their experiences and sensitivities. In science, that something is nature, the physical world and physical laws." And pure science, he believes, offers a kind of immortality akin to that of great art:
"Hundreds of years from now, when automobiles bore us, we will still treasure the discoveries of Kepler and Einstein, along with the plays of Shakespeare and the symphonies of Beethoven."

The essays are themselves artfully written, sometimes vividly poetic, sometimes almost musical in their composition. The opening piece, "Pas de Deux," describes the physical forces acting opposite a ballerina with no less delicacy than we imagine of the dance itself. It is as if she dances not alone on stage, but with all of nature as her partner, each move paired in exquisite synchrony.

Lightman balances fictional narratives and beautifully detailed explorations of natural processes with autobiographical essays on his own journey as a scientist.
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