- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Washington Square Press (September 14, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743464796
- ISBN-13: 978-0743464796
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 25 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,765,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pendulum: Leon Foucault and the Triumph of Science
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How would you prove to someone that the Earth is turning? This problem vexed scientists until 1851, when Leon Foucault devised one of the cleverest experiments in scientific history. Though he knew his pendulum experiment would work, Foucault didn't have the support or backing of the respected scientists of the day--his education and background excluded him from their ranks. But he knew he was onto something big, as he wrote out invitation cards: "You are invited to come to see the Earth turn, tomorrow, from three to five, at Meridian Hall of the Paris Observatory."
Amir Aczel tells Foucault's story in an easy, anecdotal style, with lots of digressions to give background and flavor to the tale. Most importantly, Aczel offers context for the discovery, reminding readers that great thinkers like Aristotle and Plato had the wrong idea about planetary motion, that Copernicus was lucky to die before the Inquisition could kill him for his radical notions, and that Galileo was severely persecuted by a Church that refused to accept astronomical reality. It took the sponsorship of Napoleon III to set Foucault's brilliant plan in motion, perhaps proving that science and politics can occasionally work together for the greater good. Pendulum is a delightful read, full of tidbits about the major astronomers and mathematicians of the 18th and 19th centuries. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Aczel, one of our best science popularizers (Fermat's Last Theorem; The Mystery of the Aleph; etc.), now recounts the triumphs and struggles of the French physicist Leon Foucault (1819-1868), whose eponymous pendulum presented the first tangible proof of the earth's rotation. Aczel follows Foucault from his beginnings as a medical student and a science journalist covering the meetings of the august French Academy of Sciences to his installation as the official physicist attached to the Imperial Observatory in Paris and his belated election to the Academy of Sciences, finally overcoming the resistance of those who saw as an outsider this genius with no formal academic training. Foucault is portrayed as a wide-ranging thinker, fascinated with questions from the speed of light to the construction of the first gyroscope, but at the center of this account is his 1851 invention and demonstration of his famed pendulum. The author's transitions from narrative to scientific exposition can be a bit rough, but every time the pace begins to drag, he veers off in a new direction, drawing connections between Foucault's work and broader scientific, political and philosophical trends and themes. Aczel's material is so intriguing that one is inclined to forgive his habit of pursuing tangents. The reader is left with a choppy yet fascinating survey of Parisian science during the Second Empire and Leon Foucault's grudgingly rewarded place in it. Illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Using his pendulum, Foucault conclusively proved that the earth rotated on it's axis and around the sun- NOT the Catholic Church. In October of 1992, Pope John Paul II made a public apology to Galileo and in this, [the apology] "...owes everything to the work of Leon Focault almost a century and a half earlier."- p 239.
Of course, the apology should have been given directly to Galileo, but hey, better late than never and another feather in the cap of the recently passed John Paul II.
Aczel writes with a flowing narrative- "like a novelist", as one reviewer states, and invites people from all backgrounds to understand the life and accomplishments of Focault and to give due recognition and honor to such a dedicated scientist. Well researched with easy to understand science, including illustrations, photos and drawings, one will come to know the man and his genius.
Chief amongst Foucault's many discoveries were the modern electric compass, an electric microscope, photographic technology, insights into color theory, heat waves, and the speed of light. And there was so much more!
Before the Preface is a quote from Focault that wisely sums up the import of his pendulum and it's proof of the earth's rotation:
"The phenomenon develops calmly, but it is invisible, unstoppable. One feels, one sees it born and grow steadily; and it is not in one's power to either hasten or slow it down. Any person, brought into the presence of this fact, stops for a few moments and remains pensive and silent; and then generally leaves, carrying with him forever a sharper, keener sense of our incessant motion through space."- Leon Foucault, 1851.
Another reviewer above was not happy with the book and remarked that the science was wrong. It would have been good if he gave some references or other details why he felt that way. If one is bent on a scientific treatise about this, perhaps a book like Waves, Vol. 3, of the Berkeley series on physics would fill the needs the reviewer and others. It might be a worthwhile to pass his claims by a newsgroup such as sci.physics.
However, this was only one of many contributions Foucault would make to science. In addition to advances in photography, lighting, and telescope optics, Foucault invented the gyroscope, a device used in modern times to allow spacecraft to keep their bearings. Remarkably, Foucault accomplished so much despite a complete lack of formal scientific training. Sadly, one of the book's constant themes is how difficult it was for Foucault to receive proper recognition from his colleagues simply because they did not consider him to be a proper man of science.
I have read several of Amir Aczel's books, and Pendulum is by far my favorite. L?on Foucault is an appealing subject, and Aczel has a knack for explaining scientific concepts in a clear and concise manner. Despite having relatively little knowledge of physics I always found the book to be easy to follow.
Most recent customer reviews
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