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Why Does E=mc2? (And Why Should We Care?) Paperback – July 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British theoretical physicists Cox and Forshaw offer lay readers a fascinating account of modern scientists' view of the world, and how it got that way. Without using complicated mathematics, Cox and Forshaw show how the search for "mathematical consistency" can guide scientists in finding the "laws that describe physical reality." The authors provide the historical context that set the stage for Einstein's discovery, providing an easy-to-grasp explanation of counterintuitive experimental evidence, demonstrating how the speed of light acts as a "cosmic speed limit," the exception that proves the rule of relativity. The authors also clearly explain the tide shift that Einstein caused, transforming scientists' understanding of the world-"common-sense notions regarding space and time are dashed and replaced by something entirely new, unexpected, and elegant." Though the basics are covered in detail, there's plenty here for science buffs to ponder.
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.

Review, 8/22/10
“Cox and Forshaw make a good point in stating that space, time, and even nature are contained within the equation…Although the theory might be tricky, the authors show they understand readers are not on their level. By going one step at a time, the buildup ensures each chuck is absorbed slowly rather than all at once.”, 8/24/10
“This book takes the world’s most famous equation apart and puts it back together again in a way that is lively and understandable.  We were delighted to find our knowledge of equations—long forgotten since leaving school for some of us—reinvigorated and felt ourselves rediscovering our enjoyment of mathematics.”
Choice, September 2010
“Thorough, engaging.”
New Scientist, 8/28/10
“Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw tackle the most famous equation of all time in a remarkable comprehensible way…The pair make some surprising points that I haven’t seen expressed in quite the same way…Well worth a read.”
January, 8/16/10
“Particle physics professor Brian Cox and professor of theoretical physics, Jeff Forshaw are clearly trained to have the answers. But here's something that training as a physicist simply can not teach: they deliver their message not only clearly, but with a deep and resonant humor.”
“[Cox and Forshaw are] good communicators overall (they find understandable ways of explaining most concepts) and they have important things to say…What’s important about this book is not that it says something new about science. It’s that it gives a primer for understanding how a certain type of scientist sees the universe.”
New York Journal of Books
“[An] easy-to-read little book…[Cox and Forshaw] very cleverly introduce all the ideas we will need to get to the world’s most famous equation, E=mc2. What is more, they focus on the most puzzling part: the question of what c, the speed of light, is doing in there…Their arguments are so presented so clearly…It is to their credit that they do not always hide the complexity nor the long history of ideas behind relativity…It is also to their credit that they make the case, as Feynman and others have done before them, that, at some level, the weirdness of the universe just has to be accepted…Will help school science teachers as much as it will their students.”
The Guardian, 10/18/10
“The reader is in supremely capable hands with Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw…For anyone afraid of technicalities, Cox and Forshaw lead the reader by the hand through the complexity, adding in rest stops of wit and real-world examples. Even the hardest bits feel like being taken on an army assault course by the two friendliest drill sergeants in the world. You may have to read some bits twice but, boy, will you feel better for it once the insights become clear. In the process of exposing the science, the authors do a good job of showing how the hard end of research works: abandon all assumptions and re-build everything from scratch.”

Daily Telegraph, 10/19/10
“[A] brilliant exposition of Einstein’s famous equation… [Gives] a fresh understanding of Einstein’s genius. A truly impressive achievement.”

The Independent,
“Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw take Einstein's description of the relationship between energy and matter, pull it apart and put it together again, with some detours into space and time along the way. Not an easy read, but not an easy subject.”
Nature, 10/28/10
“Provide[s] an accessible explanation of Einstein’s iconic equation.”
Cape Times (South Africa),11/5/10
“Fans of the physical sciences will undoubtedly enjoy this read…The true success of Why Does E=mc2? lies in Cox and Forshaw having made the most esoteric of ideas…accessible to the layman…The pair manage to hold their readers' hands as they skip through the figures and facts—without patronizing them—to create a logical map between theory and consequence.”
Midwest Book Review, December 2010
“An easy survey of science for non-scientists.”

London Times (UK), 1/6/11
Name one of the “Top 10 Science Books of 2010.”
The Scotsman (Scotland), 12/11/10
Named one of the “Top Reads of 2010.”
The Bookseller, UK, 3/25/11
“[Cox] will join an elite group of just eight authors who’ve penned a science book that has sold in six figures.”

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (July 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818769
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Yvonne A. Oliver on August 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a great feeling to come back tired from work and pick up such a book. After all, like most people I rarely have time to ponder seriously about the universe and the meaning of time and space.I am a high school French teacher so my training in science is rather limited. But after a few hours spent thinking about time,space, distance, energy and matter with Cox and Forshaw,I felt enlightened and rejuvenated! It really read like a thriller, whenever I put the book down I could not stop thinking about it and at dinner I could not shut up about it. The more my friends asked me questions about what I read the more I felt like going back and re-reading until I could explain it in my own words. Now that I am done with it, it's haunting me, driving home or playing with my cat; it keeps me thinking...
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95 of 100 people found the following review helpful By David Nichols on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cox and Forshaw have presented a streamlined, focused popular science book aimed at teaching relatively new physics readers the basics and history of the famous equation in the title. While experienced physics readers will not likely learn new information, the book offers an approachable description of relativity, how we know it works, and why it is important in the modern world and beyond.

While I personally didn't gain much new from this book (as a reasonably experienced non-professional physics reader), I believe newer readers could be in for a treat. I'd certainly recommend starting a discovery of relativity with this book if the concept seems difficult. The authors take time to explain various points, and offer solid presentations and reasonable analogies to aid in the explanation. Combined with a singularly-focused subject, the book is an excellent starting point for curious, intelligent readers wishing to know more details about E=mc2. Four stars.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Michael H. Stone, MD on August 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I read Professors Cox & Forshaw's new book on Einstein's E = mc2 in one day: I couldn't put it down. I have tried for years to get a handle on the equation and how to think about spacetime, have read many books for the lay public (I am a psychiatry professor, so I am a layman when it comes to physics) -- and this new book is the only one that I could grasp and that really made sense. It's a great tribute to the authors and a great service to the public.
Michael H Stone, MD
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Sarah Black on November 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My husband is a math guy and has read books about relativity for fun. I'm not so keen on math myself, but have a master's degree in organic chemistry (I can do math, sure, I just don't do it for fun). I bought this book so that we would have something to read together - I keep buying him books as gifts, and they often collect dust.

It turned out to be a great idea. We have often forgone watching TV in order to read more about E = mc2. We read, stop, discuss, and try to wrap our brains around the ideas. I think I have come to understand more of the underlying ideas briefly presented in my physics classes, and in an environment of no stress and no time limit! I am not in a position to critique the physics itself, but I have found no errors or issues that suggest a problem.

However, as much as the author's try to make the subject accessible, I am fairly certain my non-math and science family members would have been lost after the first few chapters. Without some experience in thinking in equations, it's just hard to wrap your brain around the ideas.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with at least a basic math or science background who is interested in understanding something fundamental that hardly ever gets explained outside of an upper level physics course, or someone without a math or science background who is interested in really stretching their brain.
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84 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Stephen E. Kennedy on January 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors do a good job of describing the role on invariants in physics, and for that I am grateful.

However the way the choose to simplify the math and science created more confusion for me than light.

Their decision to not state the underlying formulas directly but instead to explain them in words required the authors to spread the formulas out over page after page making them unnecessarily difficult to follow. You cannot go back and review an equation because you can't find in buried in the text.

Page 22 is a good example of unnecessary explanation. It requires the entire page to laboriously explain that x, y,and z are variables. (Do the authors really believe someone would buy a book with the title E=mc^2 if they did not understand the concept of a variable??)

Minor point are belabored while major shifts are completely unexplained. For example, on page 80, the authors explain invariants in terms of the radius of a circle, all points on the circumference are equal (invariant) distance from the center. They explain that when this model is applied to space-time, it violates Cause and Effect. The explanation is enlightening; so far, so good. To fix the problem with cause and effect, the authors take a next step that is bizarre and unexplained. They change the Pythagorean formula to create a hyperbola and never explain how this new model of S/T maintains the invariance that was so obvious in the last model (the circle). Several commentators have noted this particular problem with book.

Another example from page 131-3 is even more bizarre. After demonstrating that (gamma)MC (the scaling factor of S/T time) is conserved, they then state the (gamma)MC^2 is also conserved (Ok, I will take your word on that ...).
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