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Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps: Empires of Time 1st Edition

28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393020014
ISBN-10: 0393020010
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard historian of science Galison approaches our understanding of time at the beginning of the 20th century through two related dimensions. The first, extremely practical perspective focuses on our ability to accept a common definition of time at various locations. Before our current system of time zones existed, time was a local construct, making it extremely difficult to coordinate events, have trains run smoothly or determine longitude. The second, far more theoretical perspective deals with the basic laws of physics and addresses the question: is time absolute or relative? Galison focuses his narrative through the eyes of the two scientists most responsible for crafting our present understanding of time, Albert Einstein and Henri Poincare‚. While Einstein needs no introduction, the less well-known Poincare‚ does. He was one of the world's most renowned mathematicians and president of the French Bureau of Longitude. Galison explains how, in the case of each of these scientists, the practical dimension helped shape their understanding of the theoretical dimension, and, in turn, how they helped transform the world. Although Galison's material is of great interest, his writing is often obtuse and overly technical, making the book's ideas less accessible to a general audience. 46 illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Scientific American

Two scientists closed in on one groundbreaking theory. Poincaré posited something so close to Einstein's theory of relativity that it is surprising in retrospect he did not take the final step. The story is told in this new (paperbound) edition of a book that appeared in 2003. Described then as "absolutely brilliant," "a stroke of genius," "fresh, idiosyncratic," and "meticulously detailed ... perhaps the most sophisticated history of science ever attempted in a popular science book," it is all of the above, but it is not for the intellectually faint of heart.

Editors of Scientific American


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393020010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393020014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book, Peter Galison attempts to show that scientists and mathematicians, no matter how brilliant, do not work in a vacuum. The focus is more on Henri Poincare than Albert Einstein, although Einstein is certainly not slighted. It's just that Mr. Galison feels, at least as far as the general public is concerned, Poincare has been "slighted,"....and this book, in part, is an attempt to redress the situation. It is easy to think of mathematicians and physicists as being disconnected from the "real world." Mr. Galison wants to show us, however, that they are influenced heavily by their colleagues in the scientific community and, more generally, by the culture they are part of. Thus, Poincare (president of the French Bureau of Longitude) was a creature of his times: he was "formed" by his education at the Ecole Polytechnique, with its emphasis on combining theory with practice. He was a man who "networked," and constantly exchanged ideas with fellow mathematicians and scientists. As a Frenchman, he shared in the humiliation of the French defeat at the hands of the Prussians in the war of 1870. Thus, it was important for France to lead the way in the longitudinal mapping of the planet (which required the synchronization of clocks across great distances). This longitudinal mapping was important for war and peace (for moving armies and navies...and oceangoing commerce). Synchronized clocks, even apart from their relationship to longitude, were also important for other reasons- such as for regulating railroad schedules. Mr. Galison's point: time was in the air and, since the outlook was global, there was an understanding that time was relative rather than absolute. Mr.Read more ›
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92 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. Malvin on September 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With a life long fascination toward those things mathematical, scientific and historical, I approached Peter Galison's book with happy expectations. Investing three days in its reading and finding much new material of interest, I have no problem with Mr. Galison's credentials as a scholar and historian of science.
Sadly, what is admirable regarding his book has been seriously compromised by Galison's maddening redundancy and deluge of verbosity. How many times need he remind us that Poincare was trained at the Ecole Polytechnique and headed the Bureau des Longitudes, or that Einstein was more than just a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office where he received valuable experience regarding clock synchronization?
Though some reviewers found the book overly technical, I would have appreciated more detail in the thoughts and experiments of the two protagonists, as well as more information than was given regarding the contributions and lives of other significant players such as Minkowski, Maxwell, Lorentz and Mach.
While the notes, bibliography, and Galison's insights attest to his dedication and knowledge, the 328 pages of text, for what they contained, could easily have been reduced by 75 to 100 pages, if not more. I can only wonder if the author was simply churning out text to meet the obligations of a book contract. Besides being personally frustrating --because I truly appreciated much of what he presented-- this excess, as I forced myself to read through the final pages, became laughable. Before he publishes his next book, I strongly suggest Gallison take a freshman course in journalism at his university, Harvard, so that he might be more sensitive to the literary advantages of trimming the fat!
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It is so easy to tell when one thing happens simultaneously with another. You just see them both happen at the same time, simple. But let's say you are very sensitive to the speed of light, so sensitive that you can tell the difference in the interval between light coming from five miles away or ten miles away. Imagine yourself on a mountain and you see simultaneous lightning strikes on mountains that are both five miles away from you. You see the light from both at the same time; simultaneity is easy to spot. But now imagine the lightning hits simultaneously a mountain five miles away and another ten miles away. You now see one lightning strike well before the other. Where did the simultaneity go? It has suddenly gotten complicated and elusive. _Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time_ by Peter Galison (Norton) is the story of what happened when two quite different thinkers contemplated the problem of simultaneity, and also of how people have done their best to promulgate an increasingly accurate time within their cities, countries, and the world.
Quite famously, the young Albert Einstein was a mere minor bureaucrat in the Patent Office in Berne starting in 1902. Galison shows that time synchronization had to be on his mind because some of the patents he examined were for gadgets to help keep clocks in synchrony. Synchronized clocks were becoming increasingly important, for keeping trains from hitting each other, and then to keep microseconds from interfering with mapmaking. Poincaré was President of France's Board of Longitude, and synchrony was vital to him as he sent time-signals to cartographers in, say, South America. If the sent time was off due to cable delivery, the map might be half a kilometer in error.
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