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On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy Paperback – October 30, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0141015712 ISBN-10: 0141015713

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1280 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141015713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141015712
  • Product Dimensions: 2.1 x 5.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,044,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed physicist Hawking has collected in this single illuminating volume the classic works of physics and astronomy that in their day revolutionized humankind's perception of the world. Included are Copernicus's On the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres, Galileo's Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, Kepler's "Harmony of the World," Newton's The Principia and selections from The Principle of Relativity by Einstein. Taken together, these writings document the evolution of our conception of the universe from a pre-Copernican cosmos with a stationary earth at its center to one in which the very weave of time and space are relative. The editor's ability to step back and view the sweep of his subject was first showcased in his bestselling A Brief History of Time and confirmed in his The Universe in a Nutshell. In an essay introducing each work here, he gives a short and sweet biography of its author and an explanation of its significance, as well as the occasional gem, like Galileo's handwritten renunciation of his beliefs before the Inquisition. To read the works themselves is to feel the thrill and mystery of intimacy with oft-cited source documents. Despite the volume's heftiness, Hawking has given these works a setting that is elegantly simple and, in its simplicity, effectively broadening.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In translation from the original Latin, Italian, or German, the revolutionary scientific writings of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein are here gathered into one monumental book. The texts appear to be unexpurgated, with little evidence of editing; Hawking's contribution is a biographical introduction to each of these icons of physics. The actual texts are largely unmediated by Hawking, so readers seriously willing to plunge into De revolutionibus or Principia mathematica would be well advised to be self-reliant, particularly in the mathematics absolutely central to understanding when reading the texts. This collection could be regarded as an intellectual fashion accessory for readers without the requisite mathematical ability, although some of the entries are more accessible, as with the Galileo offering, which Galileo wrote as a dialogue precisely for a general audience. In the Einstein selections, too, the math-impaired can find the Newton-toppling ideas among the equations: "Velocities greater than light . . . have no possibility of existence." It remains to be seen whether the publisher's audacious six-figure press run is justified. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Stephen Hawking's ability to make science understandable and compelling to a lay audience was established with the publication of his first book, A Brief History of Time, which has sold nearly 10 million copies in 40 languages. Hawking has authored or participated in the creation of numerous other popular science books, including The Universe in a Nutshell, A Briefer History of Time, On the Shoulders of Giants, The Illustrated On the Shoulders of Giants, and George's Secret Key to the Universe.

Customer Reviews

If you have not read this book, please do so.
Syed Z. Hosain
The brilliant idea behind this book is the inclusion of selected, original, translated "Great Works of Physics and Astronomy" (which is the book's subtitle).
Stephen Pletko
This is not a book that someone should read; it is a book that everyone should be reading -again and again.
Vis Comica

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko on June 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
+++++

The brilliant idea behind this book is the inclusion of selected, original, translated "Great Works of Physics and Astronomy" (which is the book's subtitle). These works were written by five intellectual "giants" (all men whose portraits are shown on the book's cover). This book's title "On the Shoulders of Giants" was a phrase used in a letter by one of these men and the meaning of it is the theme of this book. Its meaning, as Dr. Stephen Hawking states, is "how science...is a series of incremental advances each building on what went before." This book uses these five men's great works "to trace the evolution of our picture of the heavens."

This book was edited and has "commentary" by Hawking. The reader is not told exactly what Hawking's commentary is but I assume it is the short but excellent introduction to the book, the brief but informative biographies or "Life and Work" of each man, and the helpful footnotes included with each great work. All these as a whole comprise less than 2% of this nearly 1300 page book.

I found in the page entitled "A Note on the Texts" the following: "The texts [or great works] in this book are based on translations of the original, printed editions [or papers]. [There has been] no attempt to modernize [or correct] the author's own distinct usage, spelling, or punctuation, or to make the texts consistent with each other in this regard." I assume this also applies to errors in grammar and errors to equations (such as omissions). That is, any errors in the original, translated papers are not corrected.

Who were these giants and what great work (that's included in this book) did they produce? The answer is as follows:

1. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543).
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Palle E T Jorgensen VINE VOICE on July 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What makes this Stephen Hawkin book different is that it collects together in one place the original papers of the great masters, starting with Copernicus, and ending with Einstein. A generation ago, Eric Temple Bell suggested that we begin with the classics when learning math and science. Traditionally, it was thought that modern books based on the classics offered more effective ways of introducing or presenting the material, and as a result only a few students (and teachers) took the trouble of looking at the original classics, the central papers of the great masters. The true landmark papers. All the while, they collected dust on the shelves in the back rooms of libraries. Of the giants in science, five stand out, Copernicus, Galilei, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein. A chapter is reserved to each of the five. Each chapter begins with a lively biography which also serves to place the material in the context of the history of science. This is followed with the original papers themselves in translation. With this book, readers can compare Newton's laws from Principia with the fundamental papers of Einstein. It is collected in one place with commentary. Complaint: The print reproduction of Einstein's papers is not good, and some formulas unfortunately have been truncated in the reproduction. Hopefully that will be fixed in a second edition.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on August 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book contains writings of five of the greatest scientists who have ever lived. They changed the way we thought about nature and in so doing changed the way we thought about ourselves. Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the notion of a heliocentric universe. Galileo Galilei reiterated that with the added evidence of moons of other worlds. He introduced the discipline of physics into the discussion. Johannes Kepler used this new science to measure the orbits of the planets and discover HOW they spun in their orbits (he gave us the three planetary laws).

Newton used that information to explain the underlying reasons for motion, gravity, acceleration. He also built on Kepler's work in optics. Albert Einstien used the Newtonian universe as the starting point for introducing us to the relativistic nature of existence.

This is NOT a book for beginners - it contains some heavy mathematics, theorem, and the writing is at times, turgid. What I found lacking was the "commentary" by Stephen Hawking. I, like others, had presumed that it was going to be give and take...he would introduce the scientist, let us see some of their work, then offer commentary. Instead what we got were LONG tomes that, while being the essense of the genius, are hardly digestable as public reading. It is an impressive work but is not easily accessible by the layman.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By T. Dindorf on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having spent years teaching high school Physics - including the ubiquitous F=ma - I was humbled by the elegance and clarity of Newton's own derivation. There is nothing that I - or authors of textbooks I have seen - can come up with that will explain the three Laws of Motion better than Newton's own presentation. I am surprised that this is not compulsory reading in standard college Physics courses or, more importantly, in teacher training. The `Principia...' are not just of historical interest - they can still be used in education today. It makes, for example, a refreshing change to teach the 2nd Law without using the term `acceleration', focussing on momentum (`movement' in Newton's language) instead.
I'm also ashamed to admit it took me so long to notice that since Newton followed Kepler (one of the `giants' to whom Newton's statement refers), Newton derived the Law of Gravitation by combining Kepler's 3rd with his own 2nd and not, as many syllabi would have our students believe, the other way round ["derive Kepler's 3rd law..."]. Better late than never...
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