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From Clockwork to Crapshoot: A History of Physics Paperback – April 29, 2010

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ISBN-13: 978-0674034877 ISBN-10: 0674034872

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Popular science author Newton (Galileo's Pendulum) misses many nooks and crannies of his subject in this too brief survey of the history of physics. He focuses primarily on astrophysics and atomic physics, which no such book can be without, but which many excellent books focus on exclusively. A third of the way through, Newton spends a chapter on other subjects; it's hard to believe that there were no advances in, say, mechanics before 1800 worthy of discussion. Toward the end of the book, the author discusses advanced properties of magnetism. Developments in mathematics take up space that could have been given to the nooks and crannies. Capsule biographies of giants of physics, such as Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, help them come alive for readers. Newton writes well enough for general readers, but they would be advised to leave that space on their shelf for a more comprehensive overview of the field. B&w illus., 1 map. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


This is an illuminating chronicle of mankind's adventures, over six millennia, in pursuit of physical laws. It is enhanced by lucid exposition of challenges and concepts, with engaging portraits of many avid actors in a grand, abiding drama. (Dudley Herschbach, Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science, Harvard University)

Although there are several books on the history of physics, none is as up-to-date, comprehensive, and well-written as Newton's. Most other books either provide a very superficial explanation of the concepts and theories, or are too technical for most non-scientists to understand. Newton manages to maintain a consistent level and style, and to say just enough about the difficult issues to get the reader interested but not overwhelmed (Stephen G. Brush, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the History of Science, University of Maryland)

Newton's account is superb. He is magnificent at explaining the profound influence of mathematics on the development of physics. The historical relationships between subdisciplines, such as thermodynamics and statistical physics, are illuminated. Numerous biographical sketches add a lively dynamic to an enjoyable book. (Simon Mitton Times Higher Education Supplement 2007-01-12)

This book attempts in one volume to give a history of physics, from the dawn of mankind to the present day. It is a formidable task but one which I believe has been largely successful. (Peter Ford History of Physics Newsletter)

From the properties of matter to the constituents of the universe, this book illustrates how discoveries old and new have created modern physics. (Science News 2007-02-01)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674034872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674034877
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,093,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Wolf Roder on July 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The book describes six thousand years of science, beginning with Babylon and Egypt, which developed many practical applications and rules in the natural world. The author progresses quickly to ancient Greece and the beginning of abstract reasoning and speculation. We learn about the tight connection between mathematics and physics, indeed this book may be regarded as a history of math as well. Newton's writing is clear and easy to follow - at least until the time of Einstein, relativity and quantum mechanics. Then the subject matter makes it difficult to follow the narrative, and I had to re-read parts several times.

You will learn just what a "quantum jump" is (p. 224). It is very small, and happens in the electron shell of the atom. There is some comment (p. 270) on why Lord Kelvin's limit on the age of the earth was overthrown. You will also learn how and why probability and statistics have become prominent parts of our understanding of matter and energy, and why the firm deterministic laws of physics have had to be abandoned. The book ends with the modern, - and still tentative, - understanding of the structure of the atom. The atom in turn enlightens our understanding of the universe, and the history of the cosmos since the "Big Bang." On the whole, a very satisfying read.
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From Clockwork to Crapshoot: A History of Physics
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