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The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science [Kindle Edition]

Robert Crease
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Is science beautiful? Yes, argues acclaimed philosopher and historian of science Robert P. Crease in this engaging exploration of history’s most beautiful experiments. The result is an engrossing journey through nearly 2,500 years of scientific innovation. Along the way, we encounter glimpses into the personalities and creative thinking of some of the field’s most interesting figures.

We see the first measurement of the earth’s circumference, accomplished in the third century B.C. by Eratosthenes using sticks, shadows, and simple geometry. We visit Foucault’s mesmerizing pendulum, a cannonball suspended from the dome of the Panthéon in Paris that allows us to see the rotation of the earth on its axis. We meet Galileo—the only scientist with two experiments in the top ten—brilliantly drawing on his musical training to measure the speed of falling bodies. And we travel to the quantum world, in the most beautiful experiment of all.

We also learn why these ten experiments exert such a powerful hold on our imaginations. From the ancient world to cutting-edge physics, these ten exhilarating moments reveal something fundamental about the world, pulling us out of confusion and revealing nature’s elegance. The Prism and the Pendulum brings us face-to-face with the wonder of science.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“Science and scientists are so often seen as cold and emotionless, but they are passionately drawn to beauty and truth, no less intensely than artists or poets. One can open this book anywhere and get a sense of this special passion—each chapter has its own special feel and delectations, and all of them bring out that beauty, for scientists, is no less important than truth, and that one can be ravished by an experiment no less than by a work of art.”
—Oliver Sacks

“In an era in which the public perceives science as a string of ethereal ideas conjured up by cute men in tweed jackets sitting in overstuffed leather chairs in the faculty lounge, The Prism and the Pendulum creates a refreshing portrait of beauty in science: of men with rough hands polishing inclined planes, peering into wells, climbing towers, or sitting in the dark looking for the one spark in eight thousand that would ignite the nuclear age. In this readable, narrative-driven book, we meet scientists wresting the truth from nature by confronting her on a physical, visceral level. Robert Crease, with this volume, destroys and corrects the ‘damn good stories’ commonly used to teach science, and places himself among our most important science historians and philosophers.”
—Dick Teresi, author of Lost Discoveries, coauthor of The God Particle, cofounder of Omni


From the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

Is science beautiful? Yes, argues acclaimed philosopher and historian of science Robert P. Crease in this engaging exploration of history's most beautiful experiments. The result is an engrossing journey through nearly 2,500 years of scientific innovation. Along the way, we encounter glimpses into the personalities and creative thinking of some of the field's most interesting figures.

We see the first measurement of the earth's circumference, accomplished in the third century B.C. by Eratosthenes using sticks, shadows, and simple geometry. We visit Foucault's mesmerizing pendulum, a cannonball suspended from the dome of the Panthéon in Paris that allows us to see the rotation of the earth on its axis. We meet Galileo—the only scientist with two experiments in the top ten—brilliantly drawing on his musical training to measure the speed of falling bodies. And we travel to the quantum world, in the most beautiful experiment of all.

We also learn why these ten experiments exert such a powerful hold on our imaginations. From the ancient world to cutting-edge physics, these ten exhilarating moments reveal something fundamental about the world, pulling us out of confusion and revealing nature's elegance. The Prism and the Pendulum brings us face-to-face with the wonder of science.

From the Hardcover edition.


Product Details

  • File Size: 1331 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Reprint edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000XUBES4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,811 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
(17)
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plodding and uncompelling February 20, 2008
Format:Paperback
Having read Robert Crease's other significant book (The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics, his excellent collaboration with Charles Mann), I was eagerly looking forward to this solo-effort.

Unfortunately, the book takes what should be an inherently exciting subject (the ten most beautiful experiments of the title) and plods through them competently but with a surprising lack of enthusiasm. I almost felt as though Crease had a great idea for a book, but lost interest in his own subject matter about half-way through.

Crease spends far too much time trying to explain why we should consider the experiments beautiful rather than capture that beauty in his writing. It as though Crease were trying to explain why the Sistine Chapel is beautiful when a picture would have expressed so much more. Clearly, a scientific experiment is not so easily captured in words as a painting can be in a photgraph, but Crease's narratives consistently fall short.

Finally, Crease has chosen to insert his own philsophical interludes (ten in all) after each experiment. Each interlude is 4 to 5 pages and explores the nature of beauty and the various criteria that can be used to determine whether an experiment is beautiful. While the subject of beauty in science might be interesting, these interludes often seem self-indulfent. Crease is clearly pleased with his own classification schemes and pet theories -- I am not so sure that the reader will find them quite as interesting.

So overall, not a great popular science book, but certainly not terrible. If you are looking for an articulate synopsis of ten of the most "beautiful" experiments in history, it is a diverting enough read. If you are looking for something more compelling, skip it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty prizes July 4, 2004
Format:Hardcover
The "war" of the humanities against science has been long and arduous. According to Crease, the revelations of science in the 18th and 19th Centuries led the Romanticists to claim nature's wonders had been diluted or destroyed by the "mechanics". He refutes those assertions with an expressive study of ten "beautiful" experiments. Crease isn't arguing for a redefinition of "beauty" in this book. On the contrary, he shows how beauty's normally accepted role in human life can be suitably applied to science's accomplishments.
He admits outright to his own surprise at a researcher's exclamation over a "beautiful" experiment. The novelty of the assertion led him to query many scientists on which experiments might be so considered. The responses both surprised and gratified him. The result of his survey is this excellent book. The ten selected range from the means to first measure the earth to the realization that electrons can be in two places at once. A combination of good science and fine writing, coupled with an astute historical sense make this book a treasure.
What makes an experiment "beautiful"? Crease sets three criteria: depth, efficiency and definitiveness. "Depth" implies something fundamental about the world is revealed by the experiment. Certainly, measuring the globe using shadows in sunlight qualifies that criterion. "Efficiency" means the result is general enough to preclude having to do the experiment in a different manner to gain the same results. "Definitiveness" suggests that anyone can understand both the experiment and its value. Clearly, his ten choices show how these criteria work.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
+++++

The author, Robert Crease, a professor of philosophy and historian, sums up this entire book (that has ten chapters with a separate introduction and conclusion) by telling us to "think of this book as a special kind of gallery [of science experiments]." He goes on to say that "this gallery contains [ten experiments] of rare beauty, each with its own [experimental] design, distinct materials, and unique appeal. You will not like everything equally, for your background, experience, education, and personal taste will incline you to prefer some [experiments] over others."

These experiments were chosen by conducting a poll. The author asked readers of a certain international science magazine what they thought were the most beautiful science experiments. Then the author selected the ten most frequently mentioned candidates. (By the way, the author admits that his "poll, to be sure, was unscientific.")

The ten experiments, from oldest to more recent, are as follows:

(1) An ancient experiment that uses a shadow, a measuring tool, and junior high school geometry. ("It is so simple and instructive that it is reenacted annually, almost 2,500 years later, by school children all around the globe.")

(2) A 400-year-old experiment that was demonstrated on the surface of the Moon in August of 1971 by one of the Apollo 15 astronauts.

(3) "The first modern scientific experiment [done by the same person of (2) above], in which an investigator...planned, staged, and observed a series of actions in order to discover a mathematical law.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Science history through experiments rather than theory
When we learn physics we are learning about a model that is an abstraction of the world. Once we have made this model, we can do mathematical reasoning inside of it and get... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Jordan Bell
3.0 out of 5 stars Suggestion to the Scientific Community
Overall, I found the book to be insightful and intellectually stimulating. I appreciate the detail with which he writes in order to present the various experiments throughout... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Brian Friess
4.0 out of 5 stars A Scientific Top 10 List
I remember being a physics student in college some 20 year ago and reading an article about the "10 most beautiful" or "important" or something experiments in physics. Read more
Published on February 27, 2011 by Timothy Haugh
2.0 out of 5 stars Garbled science
If you like science through a philosophical filter this is for you. I much prefer science written by scientists who know what they are talking about. Read more
Published on August 21, 2010 by Dexter
4.0 out of 5 stars The Aesthetics of Science
_The Prism and the Pendulum_ (2003) is centered around the assumption that there is an aesthetic element to science and that experiments can in fact be beautiful. Robert P. Read more
Published on July 5, 2008 by Paul Camp
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Book
The thing which drew many people to science as children was the sense of wonder it evokes. The Prism and the Pendulum does a wonderful job of bringing out this sense in its... Read more
Published on May 4, 2006 by Dennis Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful science for non-scientists
An easy to read and usually very comprehensible selection of ten crucial experiments in science, each pair interspersed with an "interlude" of science philosophy. Read more
Published on December 28, 2004 by Joel M. Kauffman
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Refresher/Introduction
Robert Crease is a professor at Stony Brook University in NY and writes the Critical Point column every month in Physics World magazine. Read more
Published on July 20, 2004 by Dan Hanson
4.0 out of 5 stars would have been perfect, but my copy was misproduced.
I have a strong background in physics, and I've always been a great lover of science popularization books. I do like the way that this book is written. Read more
Published on March 29, 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Good summary of great discoveries
This book was an interesting an fun review of significant scientific discoveries. It provides more detail than I have read about these discoveries, and it left me wanting to find... Read more
Published on February 1, 2004
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