Most helpful critical review
57 of 65 people found the following review helpful
An eclectic romp through the wonders of physics, but insufficiently detailed: 3.5 stars
on October 25, 2011
In this book, the prolific writer Clifford Pickover leads us through an astonishing variety of inventions and discoveries that reveal the sheer range of the science and application of physics, from the Big Bang to the transistor. Starting from the Big Bang itself 13.7 billion years ago, Pickover judiciously picks key years in the history of physics and describes inventions and discoveries made during each year along with the names of the relevant scientists.
For the most part Pickover's choices are both varied and important. What I really liked about this book was the sheer variety of topics Pickover treads on; from the mundane-sounding but important (gas laws) to the technologically revolutionary (transistor) to the practically amusing (baseball curveballs, the "drinking bird") to the philosophically earth-shattering (Heisenberg's uncertainty principle) to the exotic and wondrous (Dyson spheres, Randall-Sundrum branes, quantum immortality). The examples illustrate the tremendous power of physics to both explain and practically enrich the world around us, at every different scale and dimension that we can conceive.
The problem I have with the book is that it limits the discussion of every single topic to a single page. I understand that Pickover's goal was to give us a sampling of the wonders of physics rather than any comprehensive overview, but his one-page descriptions of topics as important as relativity, quantum mechanics and cosmology left me hungry and restless for more. It seems unfair and incomplete to devote a page each to both the lava lamp and the uncertainty principle when the latter is far more important for physics. In my view Pickover could have easily reduced the number of entries by about ten percent, devoted an extra page or two to the really revolutionary discoveries and still retained the diversity of topics. Ultimately the book does serve as a glimmering showcase of the reach of physics, but it leaves you wishing that the author had delved a little more into the things that really matter.