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Powers of Ten (Revised) (Scientific American Library Paperback) Paperback – August, 1994

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Back in 1968, designers Charles and Ray Eames made a 10-minute documentary film, titled Powers of Ten, showing what the universe looks like at different scales. Philip and Phylis Morrison were scientific advisors on the movie, which Philip narrated, and it was chosen in 1998 for preservation in the National Film Registry, which selects "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant motion pictures" for preservation. The Morrisons' book translates the film onto paper.

Starting with a view of a billion light-years, the book (like the film) moves inward, with each page being at one-tenth the scale of the previous one. In 25 steps, you're looking at a picnic by the shores of Lake Michigan, then plunging into a human hand, down through the cells inside it, the DNA inside the cells, the atoms inside the DNA, and the subatomic particles inside the atom. By the time you've gone a total of 40 steps, you're in a world of quantum uncertainty.

There is no better guide to the relative sizes of things in the universe, and no better teacher about what exponential, scientific notation really means. --Mary Ellen Curtin

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 159 pages
  • Publisher: Scientific American Library; Revised edition (August 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716760088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716760085
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #678,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Powers of Ten" is one of the most influential science books ever printed. It taught me, and tens of thousands of other children, that a "sense of wonder" is something you can get from science, as well as from science fiction. I found it in a bookstore seven or eight years ago, and was immediately transported back to when I first read it, in my school library, at the age of ten. I was swept off my feet at ten years old, and the book can still sweep me off my feet today.
The original film was potent too; more so in the directness with which it expresses the scale of the world. But the book, with its annotations and additional pictures, has its own power. You can flip back and forth, and take as much time as you want absorbing the incredible range of scale in the universe.
The book's first picture is scaled at about a billion light years across--ten to the twenty-fifth metres. On this scale even super-clusters of galaxies are just clots of dust on a black background. The right hand side of each page, as you go through the book, zooms in by a factor of ten, and we dive into galaxy clusters, into our galaxy, our spiral arm, our solar system, through the moon's orbit and into the earth's atmosphere, down into North America, and then Chicago, and a picnicker asleep in a park. After twenty five pages we're at a human scale; the pictured scene is a metre across. But the camera continues to zoom in; to the picnicker's hand, through his skin to a lymphocyte, and on down through the cell nucleus to coils of DNA, to a carbon atom and through its electron cloud, and down to the nucleus and beyond. Sixteen pages from the picnicker have brought us to the quarks.
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Format: Paperback
This is a great book. Believe it or not, I walk my 5 year old son through the pictures. I am sure it is not meant for youngsters but it can be used like I am am doing.
The idea behind the book is on its smallest scale it is inside a qark inside an atomic nucleus, inside an atom, attached to a DNA molecule, inside a nucleus of a white blood cell, slightly below the skin on a hand of a man asleep at a picnic on some grass in Chicago....all the way to the scale of the universe. My son and I will transverse the middle 1/3 or 1/2 of the journey. He gets to pick his own bedtime books and he chooses this one out of hundreds once or twice a week.
The pictures make a great way to explain the concept of scale and various aspects of science. On the facing page of the main picture underconsideration are objects of the same scale. You can really see that the tail of a dinosaur is 10 times longer than a man.
For the adult, it is an easy introduction to various aspects of science all at different scales. It is not a super serious book - no math - simple explanations. But as a practicing scientist, I view it as vary factual.
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Format: Paperback
I've seen this book for the first time in 1985, when I was kid. It is still my all-time favorite.
Although the book does have lots of textual info pages, the core of the book is a series of 42 full-page pictures which depict the an ordinary picnic photo in different scales.
Starting from an ordinary dude resting on the grass, each page turn shows the scene from 10 times farther away. First we see the park he is picnicing on, then the entire city, and before you know it we are in deep space racing towards the outskirts of the Universe.
On the other side of the journey, each page turn magnifies the last picture tenfold. First by viewing a close-up view of the picnicing guy's hand, you quickly find yourself probing deeper and deeper through the realms of biology and chemistry right into the core of a single atom.
The really cool thing about the whole deal, is that all the images are centered at the same object: a single atom on the picnicing dude's hand.
In short, the idea is absolutely brilliant. The images chosen for the presentation is not perfect, but they are still amazing. Of-course, the film is much more impressive then the book, but you can't take a film with you to a camping trip...
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Format: Paperback
The idea of zooming in from Universe to atoms and subatomic images through the skin of a man, who is taking an afternoon nap by Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, is amazing. A great book (after having seen a video many years ago) with great images. The scientific and historical information is brief and well documented. Additional images are provided to illustrate each magnitude of ten. A perfect gift for a curious young minds, an adult and a teacher's must. School libraries too!
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Format: Paperback
Yes, powers of ten is a cool concept. And there are lots of good things in this book. But it was published in 1982 (and, no, the 1994 paperback is NOT revised. I have both books and there is not a comma’s difference between them. Shame on Amazon for listing this as (Revised)). So much has been learned in the 33 plus years since the book was finished. So much in it is just wrong. Reading it recently, I felt like I had traveled back in time. I hadn’t seen anything measured in angstroms in decades :)

In the heart of the book, each odd numbered page has a still from the film, one tenth as big as the previous one, while the facing page has photos at that scale along with information and explanations. At the time, many of these were photos of things that had never been photographed–or even seen–before. That gave them a special excitement–at the time. Alas, many are just not very good. Or they aren’t good visuals for the text.

If someone started from scratch and produced this book today, it would be very different. I would love to see it.
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