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E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation Hardcover – August 25, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0802714633 ISBN-10: 0802714633 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; 2nd edition (August 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714633
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714633
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

E=mc2. Just about everyone has at least heard of Albert Einstein's formulation of 1905, which came into the world as something of an afterthought. But far fewer can explain his insightful linkage of energy to mass. David Bodanis offers an easily grasped gloss on the equation. Mass, he writes, "is simply the ultimate type of condensed or concentrated energy," whereas energy "is what billows out as an alternate form of mass under the right circumstances."

Just what those circumstances are occupies much of Bodanis's book, which pays homage to Einstein and, just as important, to predecessors such as Maxwell, Faraday, and Lavoisier, who are not as well known as Einstein today. Balancing writerly energy and scholarly weight, Bodanis offers a primer in modern physics and cosmology, explaining that the universe today is an expression of mass that will, in some vastly distant future, one day slide back to the energy side of the equation, replacing the "dominion of matter" with "a great stillness"--a vision that is at once lovely and profoundly frightening.

Without sliding into easy psychobiography, Bodanis explores other circumstances as well; namely, Einstein's background and character, which combined with a sterling intelligence to afford him an idiosyncratic view of the way things work--a view that would change the world. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Most people know this celebrated equation has something to do with Einstein's theory of relativity, but most nonscientists don't know what it means. This very approachable yet somewhat limited work of popular science explains, and adorns with anecdote and biography, the equation and its place in history. Oxford lecturer Bodanis (The Secret Family) shows what happened to Einstein on the way to the discovery, what other scientists did to bring it about and how the equation created the atom bomb. Part Two tackles separately the components of the equation (E, =, m, c and "squared"), which means that it covers 18th- and 19th-century physics. "'E' Is for Energy" opens with Michael Faraday, whose unusual religious beliefs helped him discover that electricity and magnetism were the same force. "'m' Is for Mass" brings in French chemist Lavoisier, who established the law of conservation of matter. Bodanis then turns to Einstein's life and work. The middle third of the book covers the exploration of the atom and the making of the atom bomb; the cast of characters here includes Marie Curie, Lise Meitner and Enrico Fermi. A concluding section considers how E=mc2 powers the sun, and how our sun and all others will eventually run out of gas. Capsule biographies here include one of the engaging English astronomer Cecilia Payne, who wouldn't let institutional sexism stop her from finding the hydrogen in the sun. Bodanis's writing is accessible to the point of chattiness: he seeks, and deserves, many readers who know no physics. They'll learn a handfulAmore important, they'll enjoy it, and pick up a load of biographical and cultural curios along the way. 20 photos and drawings not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

This book is wonderful and easy to read.
Ashre
I am still reading it, but fascinated by the book and I know it will be one I keep going back to in my quest to truly understand what e=mc2 means.
nonfat chai latte lover
This book tells the story behind the famous little equation.
M. Franta

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 21, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Bodanis rightly points out that the special theory of relativity is unjustly considered to be impossible to understand. With that as his starting point, in this "biography of the world's most famous equation" Bodanis takes us through the background of each element of the equation (E,=,m,c and ^2) and leads us through their union by Einstein in 1905. Then he takes us through some of the implications this equation has had for the twentieth century, including the development of the atomic bomb and the discovery of black holes.
All in all, Bodanis does a fine job with his book. His presentation is easy enough to follow so that nearly anyone should be able to get the basics here. Additionally, the story, as he tells it, is motivated historically which is something that I really like. We meet a number of the important figures in scientific history (including the important women, two of whom get a lot of time in this volume--Emile du Chatelet and Lise Meitner) and learn about their contributions to the development of the theory.
The main weakness of this volume is that it is also too simplistic. It serves as a great introduction for the scientifically challenged but there is very little depth here. (To someone who has read Richard Rhodes' brilliant "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" this lack of depth in certain areas will stand out.) Also, Bodanis' judgement of certain figures--Heisenberg and Hahn, in particular--is rather harsh. I may even agree with his assessment but people's lives, especially in times of war, are more complicated that can be summed up in a few negative lines.
Still, Bodanis has done a fine job here.
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73 of 78 people found the following review helpful By E. J. Zita on March 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Bodanis' book is a quick and easy read, introducing readers to E=mc^2, the personalities involved in its creation and use, and its consequences on Earth and in stars. Bodanis tells vivid stories that make the science and history come alive. Some of these stories are substantially true, and many are misleading.
By oversimplifying the science, Bodanis makes it more accessible but introduces inaccuracies. His descriptions of fission and particle creation and annihilation are good examples of E=mc^2, but one of his favorite examples is problematic. Bodanis twice repeats the popular misconception that an object gains mass as its speed approaches the speed of light (p.52, 81), and exaggerates this fiction with descriptions of the object "swelling" as it accelerates. While an inconspicuous note in the appendix (p.250) acknowledges that this explanation is not really true, many readers will not find the note, and if they do, they'll find the cartoon image easier to remember. Bodanis' pattern of oversimplification disappoints in a book that aims to educate the public.
Another of the book's apparent strengths becomes a weakness. Its emphasis on simple, vivid portraits of key characters too often comes at the expense of deeper understanding of both the history and the science. Bodanis makes a habit of vilifying Authority and lionizing youthful independence and undersung women scientists. Lise Meiter's story is particularly compelling (and consistent with other histories), but Bodanis' more one-dimensional characterizations lose credibility. For example, his Heisenberg is simply an evil scientist while Einstein is a good and humble genius. History, however, tells more complex stories than Bodanis does.
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76 of 84 people found the following review helpful By bill katovsky on November 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
i have been a long time fan of bodanis's entertaining way of exposing (i.e. the human body or the garden) the mundane in novel ways; this time around, he exposes the abstract in a marvelously mundane way. i finally understand the basics of e=mc2. i thank him so much. this book is a gem of a biography of the equation that we know but don't know. physics and the scientists behind the formulation come to life in exciting, vivid, anecdotal ways. i simply didn't want this book to end. now, can we ever really say that about other books on physics and science? i haven't taken a calculus class in 25 years, but i was able to follow the reasoning and narrative flow with great ease. the hard stuff is thoughtfully stuck in the back in an appendix that is almost one half the length of the main section. bodanis has cracked this subject matter with perfect skill. and yes, i felt energized reading this book. hence, einstein's equation lives in yet another dimension!
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on October 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I first heard of this book from the TV show of the same name. The show, presented on PBS by Nova on October 11, 2005 was one of the highlights of the year so far. Asuming that the book would be better than the show I immediately went out and bought it. I was not disappointed. The show was great. The book is great. The show brings out the essense of the book in an extremely easy way. The book backs up the show with greater detail. The show will undoubtedly be repeated watch for it, go buy the book now.

Basically this book/show talks about each term in the famous equasion. What is energy, where/when did we start to think of it? And what's mass? And of course c, the speed limit of the universe. This book uses these terms as the starting point to explain how each of these terms were developed. And then Einstein put them together.

The way the book/show treats Lise Meitner is supurb. She was at the cutting edge of nuclear physics for 55 years. In 1992 the 109th element was named Meitnerium (Mt) in her honor (Einsteinium is number 99). One point not mentioned, at the time when she was developing the basic theory of radioactivity as depicted in the show, she was sixty years old, not the young actress playing her part. Einstein called her 'The German Madame Curie.'

In one scene in the show Einstein is talking to his first wife Mileva Maric. He is explaining the equasion. His wife asks if he would like her to check his mathematics. Mileva Maric was no dummy. Largely forgotten until the recent publication of the love letters Einstein wrote to her, she provided enough input into Einstein's theories that she probably should have been listed as a co-developer, but in those days women just couldn't do those things.
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