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Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking Paperback – September 16, 2004
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Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Digital edition.
Top Customer Reviews
At first glance this book appears to be sort of a strange hybrid of biography and science, but the combo works. Cropper generally starts a chapter on a scientist with a few page biographical sketch followed by a longer, clearly written, physics section. I would estimate that the book is about 70% physics and about 30% biographical. The biographical sections are well done and interesting, but the book really shines in its overview of the physics.
Cropper covers 30 scientists with many of them in thermodynamics and atomic physics. Reading these sections you not only get a good overview of the science at a moderate technical level (a notch or two above the usual popular science writing level since Cropper is not afraid of using equations), but also you get an historical understanding of who did what and how their contributions fit together. Another plus is that Cropper will often describe in some detail how a key experiment has been done.
As a technical person (like a previous reviewer, I am an engineer), not only did I learn a lot from this book about how many of the secrets of this world have been discovered, but some of the gaps in my physics knowledge were filled in. Cropper set himself a big task to write an overview of much of physics, but he has pulled it off with style.
My curiosity attracts me to picking up compilations such as this, but I usually find them disjunct and uninteresting. Mr. Cooper has done an amazing job of weaving a coherent story of the lives of these fascinating characters spanning a history of 400 years.
I was disappointed only in the section on relativity which diminished the roles of Lorentz, Poincare and Minkowski. Unlike the section on thermodynamics, which traces the development of key ideas among several important players, Cropper seems to present Einstein as having developed the ideas of special relativity in a historical vacuum. For example, the key equation of relativity, the Lorentz transformation, is mentioned only in passing as having been developed by Lorentz. The mathematical structure of special relativity, developed by Minkowski, is also mentioned in passing. I would liked to have learned a little more about the lives of these important contributors. In general, these three figures (Lorentz, Poincare and Minkowski) deserved more attention than provided by Cropper.
The sections on the development of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics provide as good a historical summary as I have ever read.
The format of the book is broken down into sections dealing with a topic (i.e. thermodynamics, particle physics) and then by chapter dealing with the biography of a scientist. The chapters roughly follow the format of biography, the science, and ending with later life / legacy / thoughts. But Cropper does not hold rigidly to this chapter format. Some scientists get mini biographies embedded into the chapters of others (Hetz, Otto Hahn) and some prolific scientists work outside of their "primary field" shows up in the chapters about other scientists; Maxwell's thermodynamic work appears in Boltzmann's in the Statistical Mechanics section. If one reads the book straight through this has the effect a making for a smoother narrative. If one is just looking up a single scientist this leads to some index work.
The biographies, while tertiary overviews based on longer works, are well done summaries. They are not overly romanticized accounts, and acknowledge personality flaws as well as strengths. The contributions of families and wives are also well noted, as well as when they are blown off or even betrayed.
A great advantage of this book as an overview is that Cropper is willing to put equations in the text, unlike some popular books about physics. The equations are not difficult, and can be understood by anyone who has taken middle school algebra. There are some calculus symbols that show up, but these are explained in the chapter on Newton. I was disappointed that the amount of math drops off in the later chapters.Read more ›
I have read several other books on "Great Scientists" but this is far and away the best. Most of the others were largely superficial, focusing on the man (or in a few cases women). These other books generally had a lot of illustrations that added very little to the text and provided few details about the scientific work of the person being profiled. This book is different; its focus is more on physics, with the illustrations limited to a portrait or photograph of the subject of the chapter and any figures are limited to diagrams that support the physics being discussed. In some chapters the text is only 20% biography with 80% physics, but in others there is somewhat more biography (perhaps as much as 60-80%). There are great discussions spread throughout the book that clarified a lot for me. For instance, there is a half page discussion of symmetry and conservation laws that did more to clarify this idea than the other general physics books that I have read; likewise for the discussion of Hawking Radiation.
I particularly liked the section of thermodynamics. This subject is often overlooked in other books on scientists. Cropper (who is a physical chemist) shows the evolution of thermodynamics and how it was refined from scientist to scientist.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
this book is not worth the price. The language and tone is boring. Moreover the math formulas are not visible in kindle edition, making it not useful beyond getting bio of each... Read morePublished 11 months ago by rj45
Excellent, well researched, and compelling book.Gives insight into lives of the people who helped shape physics starting with Galileo and ending with Hawking with all the other... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Shaildhish Rai
Good mix of history and simple supporting theories. Recommended for all to read!Published 19 months ago by Lloyd Kunar
Some books make you read through a timeline of history concerning a topic. This book breaks up into many very readable short chapters on each of the physicists. Read morePublished 24 months ago by R.L.D.
The book recounts the life and achievements of thirty physicists that contributed greatly to their field. Read morePublished on February 1, 2014 by Pichierri Fabio
This ambitious book aspires to capture the great contributions and contributors to our modern understanding of the physical world. I think it succeeds admirably. Read morePublished on January 30, 2014 by Amazon Customer