- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (September 17, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393326047
- ISBN-13: 978-0393326048
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps: Empires of Time Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Harvard historian of science Galison approaches our understanding of time at the beginning of the 20th century through two related dimensions. The first, extremely practical perspective focuses on our ability to accept a common definition of time at various locations. Before our current system of time zones existed, time was a local construct, making it extremely difficult to coordinate events, have trains run smoothly or determine longitude. The second, far more theoretical perspective deals with the basic laws of physics and addresses the question: is time absolute or relative? Galison focuses his narrative through the eyes of the two scientists most responsible for crafting our present understanding of time, Albert Einstein and Henri Poincare. While Einstein needs no introduction, the less well-known Poincare does. He was one of the world's most renowned mathematicians and president of the French Bureau of Longitude. Galison explains how, in the case of each of these scientists, the practical dimension helped shape their understanding of the theoretical dimension, and, in turn, how they helped transform the world. Although Galison's material is of great interest, his writing is often obtuse and overly technical, making the book's ideas less accessible to a general audience. 46 illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Scientific American
Two scientists closed in on one groundbreaking theory. Poincaré posited something so close to Einstein's theory of relativity that it is surprising in retrospect he did not take the final step. The story is told in this new (paperbound) edition of a book that appeared in 2003. Described then as "absolutely brilliant," "a stroke of genius," "fresh, idiosyncratic," and "meticulously detailed ... perhaps the most sophisticated history of science ever attempted in a popular science book," it is all of the above, but it is not for the intellectually faint of heart.
Editors of Scientific American --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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There is one major issue that potential readers may want to consider, and which has been complained about in other reviews, that Galison doesn't explain things below a particular level. Don't get this wrong, the book is by no means abstruse. However, Galison does assume a certain amount of knowledge about Einstein and the physics; but the physics is not so much that it cannot be grasped by someone who has read a basic work on special relativity. For example, reading Einstein's popular work, entitled "Relativity," or the special theory of relativity section of "Modern Physics" by Thornton and Rex, would give the reader sufficient background for the moderately technical information that is glossed over. For my part, not having read "Relativity" is like not having read "Romeo and Juliet," and I don't think such is too much to ask of anyone. It's a tougher read, but still geared toward a popular audience, and it is, after all, a watermark in human intellectual achievement, so I really can't empathize with the complaints. It is as though the general opinion is that every work of popular science must retell the same stories to pander the generally science-illiterate American audience, which I find an appalling, if true, opinion.
The one moderately decent criticism has been that Galison did not do enough to connect Einstein's thought to Poincare's, drawing the lines. I actually wrote a blog about this, for those interested (go to milliern_at_wordpress_dot_com and look for "Einstein, Poincare, and Kant: Between Galison and Yourgrau). To a certain extent, the criticism is valid, but Galison does a lot of writing to allow the active mind of the reader to draw many of the connections, which is not too much to ask. There are, I think, some things he needed to do better in explicitly drawing his lines, but, still, he has stimulated thought, so I see this as minor, on the whole. To counter the criticism with something that I really liked about the book, I think Poincare is overlooked far too much by historians of science and science history popularizers (except when it comes to math). One of the great minds of all times, Galison helps make visible this juggernaut who has been thoroughly overshadowed by Einstein.
This is a book I recommend to everyone who has read Walter Issacson's "Einstein" and Einstein's "Relativity," or have comparable experience with a biographical look at Einstein and pseudo-technical (popularized) knowledge of the physics.
(Spoiler Alert!: Don't read below this, if you don't want details about substance of the book.)
One last thing: For those who failed to see the point of the book, I want to let them in on the not-so-secretive secret. The idea of the title says it all, Galison's thinking being that what permitted Einstein to come up with his idea, even though Poincare had figured out how all but one of the puzzle pieces fit, was Einstein's practical mind and adherence to the practical (i.e. the clocks). By comparison, Galison is of the mind that Poincare's maps, being considerably more cerebral of a consideration, led Poincare away from solving the final conundrum that would have brought about a fully formed special theory of relativity. I disagree with this conclusion (see above-mentioned blog), even on the basis of the evidence presented by Galison.