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Ludwig Boltzmann: The Man Who Trusted Atoms [Hardcover]

Carlo Cercignani , Roger Penrose
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 10, 1998 0198501544 978-0198501541
Ludwig Boltzmann arguably played the key role in establishing that submicroscopic structures underlie the ordinary world. He had a tremendous impact on late 19th-century and early 20th-century physics, and he anticipated many contemporary ideas, including Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions and recent theories of knowledge based on Darwinian principles. This book is the first accessible biography of this important figure. Without relying on equations, it provides a deep look at the full range of his scientific and philosophical ideas, discussing both their original context and their relevance today. The book also gives a concise portrait of Boltzmann's life, which, despite his successes, ended tragically in suicide. Drawing on recent research related to some of Boltzmann's more controversial ideas, this book offers fascinating insights into the birth of modern physics.


Editorial Reviews

Review


"Ludwig Boltzmann (1844-1906) is the scientist to whom, more than anyone else, we owe the great conceptual leap that yielded a joint view of mechanics, statistics, radiation and thermodynamics. . . . Boltzmann paid dearly for his vision, in terms of his own psychological stability and mental health, up to his tragic suicide. . . . Boltzmann had a very intense life, dominated by insecurity, academic feuds and a passion for science. He was also a sensitive musician and a lover of nature, with a keen eye for picking out and explaining to his children, for example, evolutionary mechanisms. He would tell them long tales of a great English scientist sailing around the world in a ship called Beagle, and from that explain why foxes have fur, or birds feathers. . . . Cercignani's beautiful book has the merit, first of all, of bringing Boltzmann fully back to life, as a scientist, a philosopher and a poet, thanks to painstaking research."--Nature


"While researching the mathematical theory of the Boltzmann equation, Cercignani (theoretical mechanics, Politecnico di Milano) encountered the eclectic thought of this Austrian physicist (1844-1906) who established that an atomic structure underlies macroscopic bodies. This biography covers physics and kinetic theory before Boltzmann; his Darwinian theory of knowledge anticipating Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions; relationship with Maxwell, Planck, and other peers; and influence on modern science. Appends mathematical theorems and models. Includes a chronology, portraits, and diagrams related to his work."--SciTech Book News


"Solving the enigma of irreversibility was the great enterprise to which the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann . . . dedicated his life. . . . Carlo Cercignani's [book] is not about recent developments in nonequilibrium statistical mechanics. It may be described briefly as a careful, in-depth discussion of Boltzmann's science and personality and of the world he lived in. . . . Actually, Boltzmann's scientific ideas have retained immediacy because the development of nonequilibrium statistical mechanics has been slow . . . [Cercignani's book] is obviously a work of love, and I would advise the reader to take time going through it. There are, for instance, sensitive descriptions of the intellectual atmosphere of central Europe in the late 19th century. . . . It is refreshing to see the philosophy of science discussed not by a licensed hermeneutician but by a true scientist like Boltzmann, who is able to disregard formal details and go straight to the important ideas."--Physics Today


"The text is packed with fascinating aspects of Boltzmann's career. . . . In the 1870's, Boltzmann was, in Cercignani's words, 'also busy with an experimental study on the law that according to the Maxwell picture related the dielectric constant and the refractive index of a given material.' The measurements of the dielectric constant were based on electrical attraction or changes in capacitance. Thus they determined the dielectric constant at zero frequency. The good agreement that Boltzmann found with the refractive index . . . was--in part--a stroke of good luck. (If Boltzmann had tried water, he would have been surprised.) And then there were Boltzmann's travels from one university to another, especially during the 'restless years,' from 1888 to his suicide in 1906. . . . I can recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about Ludwig Boltzmann, a man who was misunderstood by many of his colleagues and yet highly respected . . ."--American Journal of Physics


"This book gives an interesting review of Boltzmann's work and time and the various relationships to other scientists. Boltzmann's equation . . . , Boltzmann's work in statistical mechanics, the problem of polyatomic molecules, and his reflexions on other physical parts are described well. . . . The book contains an appendix, a reference list and a useful index. It is a nice book . . ."--Mathematical Reviews


"...a thorough analysis of Boltzmann's scientific achievements by an expert on modern kinetic theory, who has also made an effort to read the original papers in "dense German" and has surveyed some of the extensive biographical material. The result is a book that can be highly recommended to all physical scientists and mathematicians, including graduate students. Cercignani, who is Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at the Politecnico di Milano, is well known for his research on the Boltzmann equation and is credited with several notable results, such as establishing the Boltzmann-Grad limit hierarchy....Well-written chapters on Boltzmann's life and time and on the early history of thermodynamics and kinetic theory, and followed by chapters on his philosophical views, his relations with his contemporaries, his dispute with the anti-atomists, and his influence on 20th century science." -- Journal of Statistical Physics, Vol 98, No 5/6, 2000


About the Author

Carlo Cercignani is a Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at Politecnico di Milano.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 10, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198501544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198501541
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,315,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stimulating biography of a great scientist May 30, 2000
Format:Hardcover
Cercignani provides a stimulating biography of a great scientist. Boltzmann's greatness is difficult to state, but the fact that the author is still actively engaged in research into some of the finer, as yet unresolved issues provoked by Boltzmann's work is a measure of just how far ahead of his time Boltzmann was. It is also tragic to read of Boltzmann's persecution by his contemporaries, the energeticists, who regarded atoms as a convenient hypothesis, but not as having a definite existence. Boltzmann felt that atoms were real and this motivated much of his research. How Boltzmann would have laughed if he could have seen present-day scanning tunnelling microscopy images, which resolve the atomic structure at surfaces! If only all scientists would learn from Boltzmann's life story that it is bad for science to persecute someone whose views you do not share but cannot disprove. One surprising fact I learned from this book was how research into thermodynamics and statistical mechanics led to the beginnings of quantum theory (such as Planck's distribution law, and Einstein's theory of specific heat). Lecture notes by Boltzmann also seem to have influenced Einstein's construction of special relativity. Cercignani's familiarity with Boltzmann's work at the research level will probably set this above other biographies of Boltzmann for a very long time to come.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for Physical Chemists December 30, 2006
Format:Paperback
Why are you here? Why are you looking for a biography about Boltzmann? If you are looking for a strong science biography with a lot of mathematical detail, then you'll want this book. The book is not just a historical biography but a mathematical one. For this purpose I would have given it 5 stars.

However, I was looking for a biography in the same category as Lindley's "Degrees Kelvin" (William Thomson aka Lord Kelvin) or Mahon's "The Man Who Changed Everything" (James Clerk Maxwell). While much of the math is placed into appendices, chapters 4, 5, and 6 will be difficult for the typical science history reader. The first three chapters were wonderful and detailed the life of Ludwig Boltzmann. Before this book he was simply the guy who's name was attached to a constant (which is why I want to read more about him!).

The back cover praise is extremely misleading-

"...accessible to all..."

"Much of the book will be interesting to the general reader."

"I can warmly recommend the book to everybody who is interested in the history of science."

Umm... no. If the second paragraph of my review is what you are looking for then I would suggest you try Lindley's "Boltzmann's Atom". While I have yet to read it, I did read his book about William Thomson/Lord Kelvin, "Degrees Kelvin", and really enjoyed it.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great book for people interested with the history of science.
The book includes a detailed account of different aspects of Boltzmann's life and scientific achievements.

Recommended.
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