- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (May 1, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780471719892
- ISBN-13: 978-0471719892
- ASIN: 0471719897
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #788,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gravity's Arc: The Story of Gravity from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Darling, the author of The Universal Book of Astronomy and a host of other books and articles on space flight, mathematics and physics, provides a strikingly readable explanation for the complex phenomena at the cutting edge of contemporary physics. Beginning with the ancient Greeks' ruminations on the nature of the physical world and concluding with a forecast for where physics is headed, Darling uses a conversational tone and narrative storytelling to coax readers through the finer points of dark energy and dark matter, string theory, inflationary universes, black holes and wormholes. Unfortunately, the book's lack of illustrations hobbles the discussion of some topics, though readers with a cursory knowledge of high school physics should be able to navigate the sections on, say, Keplerian planetary orbits or ballistic trajectories. Darling's done an admirable job of making physics palatable to a general audience, though it seems incomplete without at least a few line drawings.
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Darling has a rare gift: to present and explain in part complex issues in such manner that the average reader can easily follow the line of thought. A delightful tour d'horizon, well presented, and definitely worth reading.
To the reviewer who took issue with the presentation of the role of the Roman Catholic Church: Sadly enough, Darling is entirely accurate in his historic review of the role of the Roman Catholic Church, and my only concern is that Darling omitted to mention that the same Roman Catholic Church took well over 300 years before it eventually acknowledged that its inquisitorial findings on Galilei had been wrong.
The notion of gravity as a force is fairly new--it dates back only to Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century. Before that, Aristotle's view held sway for 2,000 years. Aristotle saw gravity as a property of matter. Newton considered it a somewhat mysterious force.
Under Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, gravity is neither of these things. Instead, it sees gravity as a manifestation of curvature in the geometry of space-time. As John Wheeler put it, "Matter tells space how to curve. Space tells matter how to move."
Given the radically evolving understanding of something as basic as gravity, surely it is unscientific in the extreme for believers in a manmade global warming crisis to claim their particular theory is beyond debate.
In many ways, general relativity turns our everyday notion of gravity on its head.
Throw a ball straight up in the air and, in Newton's eyes, a graph of its height versus time shows the ball traveling in a parabola. Einstein's new vision of gravity, which superseded that of Newton, posited that a massive body--in this case the Earth--curves the coordinate system itself. So instead of following a curved path in a flat (Cartesian) coordinate system, the ball actually follows a minimum-distance path, or geodesic, in a curved coordinate system, returning to the thrower's hand at a later time because the geodesic leads it there.
Einstein's 1905 special theory of relativity implicitly included gravity waves. Despite incredible efforts to measure these waves, they have eluded scientists.
Additional Theory Needed
Scientists no longer seriously doubt such waves exist, since Joseph Taylor and his graduate student Russell Hulse first discovered a pair of rotating binary stars and recorded their energy emissions for the next 20 years, showing variations attributable only to waves of gravity. In 1993 they received the Nobel Prize in physics for their work.
But a big problem still exists, because as we get closer to a complete picture of the theory of relativity in the universe, we have gotten no closer to fitting into it the quantum theories of how subatomic particles operate in that same universe. It isn't that they predict different results; instead, they are like different pieces of equipment that cannot be connected.
We lack a mathematical interface to solve the problem, and have not a clue how to build one. Hence the search goes on for the holy grail of physics, an all-embracing theory.
Lessons of Complexity
While scientists studying gravity recognize the current limitations of their knowledge, global warming activists are much less humble. Somehow, pseudo-scientists think they can link together myriad uncertainties in the Earth's climate system and make assertive predictions that cannot be scientifically supported within even a single order of magnitude.
The difficulty of really understanding gravity, which the reader may once have thought to be a relatively simple concept, will bring home the grotesque foolishness of the climate change predictions being bandied about in our daily life in recent years.
Of significant interest near the end of the book is a story of two young radio astronomers at the University of Massachusetts, both now at Princeton, who received the Nobel Prize in 1993 for their 1974 contribution to our still-limited understanding of gravity. These men are now part of an esteemed university department that holds three faculty members on record as expressing their disbelief in the snowballing hype regarding the theory that humans are causing a global warming crisis.
I admit to a strong bias for this book, as it is heavy with references to Einstein, a man with whom I had a literal nodding acquaintance at Princeton, as well as worshipful praise of Princeton's recently deceased emeritus professor of physics John Wheeler, who taught my freshman physics class.
This book will offer you a partial understanding of black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, which today fill the minds of theoretical physicists enamored with the ways of our universe and our solar system within it.
Gravity's Arc is a book only for those with true intellectual curiosity coupled with a complete lack of intellectual ego, as it will cow the most astute of its readers. Great minds operate well above most of us mere mortals.
But that is why I recommend it to those who are interested in science and have no fear of a wounded ego.
To my mind, approaching the myth of a human-induced global warming crisis indirectly, by learning the complexity of what you may once have thought to be a simple matter, will give you the depth of perspective to do battle with untrained people who cannot grasp the complexity of a problem they see in only the most shallow and incomplete manner.
Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([...]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.