- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon (November 8, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375421688
- ISBN-13: 978-0375421686
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,562,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th-century Science, Including the Original Papers
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From Publishers Weekly
In this enlightening collection, novelist and science writer Lightman (Einstein's Dreams) has assembled the original works announcing 25 of the world's pioneering scientific breakthroughs, coupling them with original essays to create a meditation on the "exhilaration of discovery." The lineup is a who's who of 20th-century science—Einstein, Planck, Fleming—ranging from quantum physics to astronomy, medicine, genetics and chemistry. Lightman is at his best when humanizing the scientists behind the world's major discoveries; he offers a stunning recollection from Caltech in the 1970s, when he was a graduate student, of Richard Feynman virulently attacking a world-weary Werner Heisenberg, author of the uncertainty principle, for a terrible lecture and, implicitly, for having worked on an atom bomb for the Nazis. Unfortunately, the heart of the collection, the landmark papers themselves, will prove to be stultifying and unintelligible for readers not well versed in science. Still, Lightman's elegant accompanying narratives are strong enough to carry the book. In an age when science is expanding at a faster clip than ever before, from supercomputing to cloning, this collection is a well-timed reminder of the humanity that surrounds and indeed drives scientific discovery. B&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* No one serious about literature would neglect Shakespeare and rely solely on his interpreters. But scientists rarely read what physicist and writer Lightman calls "original discovery papers." Believing that "the first reports of the great discoveries of science are works of art," Lightman has selected 25 twentieth-century "breakthrough" papers in fields ranging from quantum physics to molecular biology, medicine, and cosmology that essentially define the world as we know it. Writing with his signature clarity, warmth, and sense of wonder, Lightman introduces each landmark work with a crystalline essay elucidating the personality and life of each scientist and the significance of that scientist's paradigm-altering discovery. Lightman is especially sensitive to the suffering of Jewish German scientists under the Nazis and of women scientists in the days of institutionalized misogyny, and he writes with remarkable insight about the psychological effect of such counterintuitive findings as Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Fluent in every field he explicates, Lightman offers unprecedented commentary on each paper's style of reasoning. And how extraordinary to hold a single volume containing papers by Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Henrietta Leavitt, Linus Pauling, Edwin Hubble, and Barbara McClintock. This brilliantly conceived and assembled treasury belongs in every library. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The format is simple - an introduction that includes a short biography and an attempt to set the discovery in its cultural context. Following that is a description of the discovery and the thought process behind its discovery. Accompanying each article is the relevant paper by the actual scientist. One of the best aspects of the book was the explanation of that paper - whethter the approach was theoretical or experimental, how deeply past references were cited, etc. This is a good, solid read - nothing spectacular but a good overview.
I have to agree with Mr. Janssen below that there are some significant issues with the background material that Lightman provides. For example, in discussing the Meitner/Frisch paper on nuclear fission, he talks about "isomers" instead of "isotopes." Similarly, in the chapter on neurotransmitters, he refers to individual nerve cells simply as "nerves," saying "nerves do not touch." As one more example, in the chapter on background radiation, Lightman describes "that surreal meeting" that took place in 1965, apparently referring back to an earlier event in that chapter; nothing in the chapter, however, indicates why it could be called "surreal."
[On the other hand, in Lightman's defense, he does *not* claim that Planck proposed quanta of light; he simply uses light as an intuitive example of the quanta of energy Planck did propose.]
I can't enthusiastically recommend this book, but it's probably worth borrowing from the library.