- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon (May 5, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307908232
- ISBN-13: 978-0307908230
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 110 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos
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“Mlodinow never fails to make science both accessible and entertaining.” —Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time
“An entrancing tale of scientific history. . . . Mlodinow provides many cultural touchstones and tells personal stories, both poignant and amusing, about his experiences as a theoretical physicist to draw us even closer to the history.” —Marcia Bartusiak, The Washington Post
“Mlodinow is an engaging narrator who leavens the proceedings with a mischievous wit.” —Alan Hirshfeld, The Wall Street Journal
“An inspiring, exciting exploration of how our very inquisitive species has attempted to comprehend the cosmos.” —Louise Fabiani, The American Scholar
“An audacious encapsulation of our species’ trek from savannah to city.” —Nature
“The Upright Thinkers playfully tracks the evolution of man’s understanding of the world over millions of years. . . . An accessible and engaging read that brings science’s brilliant minds to life.” —Financial Times (London)
“Powerful. . . . Breath[es] new life into science history. [Mlodinow] frames narratives of great thinkers with serial scenes of his father’s great courage and curiosity.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[An] amazingly compact yet satisfying history. . . . [Mlodinow] is a whiz of a popular-science writer. . . . Amateur science mavens couldn’t ask for a better brief, introductory text.” —Ray Olson, Booklist
“How did we move so rapidly from caves to cars, from the Savannah to skyscrapers, from walking on two legs to bounding on the Moon? Follow Mlodinow on an astonishing tour of our species’ journey; with each new stop, you'll discover how our unceasing progress is driven by something very special about human brains: our unslakable thirst for knowledge.” —David Eagleman, PhD, Neuroscientist, New York Times bestselling author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
“[A] bracing work of scientific history. . . . Don’t worry if quantum physics and the theory of relativity leave you quaking. . . . Mlodinow knows how to talk to the science-challenged.” —Library Journal
“Endlessly fascinating . . . consistently thought-provoking. . . . A selective, guided tour of the human accumulation of knowledge . . . [and] the striking characters who pioneered scientific discoveries. . . . A breathtaking survey.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Mlodinow vividly traces the revolutions in thought and culture that define our civilization and, as a bonus, presents a stimulating overview of the history and majestic sweep of modern science.” —V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human
“An enjoyable and readable introduction to the history of western science, beginning with the first stone tools and ending in the era of quantum physics. Mlodinow takes us on a tour of some of the high points of scientific discovery from Egyptian and Mesopotamian mathematics, to Pythagoras and Aristotle, to the classical era of Galileo and Newton, and finally to the strange worlds of Einsteinian relativity and the uncertainty principle, which taught us how to study worlds beyond the reach of our everyday senses.” —David Christian, co-author of Big History: Between Nothing and Everything, and professor, Macquarie University, Sydney
About the Author
LEONARD MLODINOW received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and was on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology. His previous books include the best sellers Subliminal (winner of the PEN/E. O. Wilson Award), War of the Worldviews (with Deepak Chopra), The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking), and The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (a New York Times Notable Book), as well as Feynman’s Rainbow and Euclid’s Window. He also wrote for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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The chapters are divided logically and sequentially over time. The author provides a great discussion of the history of civilization where man's "need to know" initially was related to survival which then expanded over millions of years to creating instruments such as the telescope and eventually theories about the orbits of planets. Eventually the observation of natural phenomenon, such as gravity lead to deeper understanding about what makes up our physical world. I enjoyed reading about Mesopotamia, the well known "cradle of civilization" where writing, farming, cities, and laws arose. From Ancient Greece, philosophy and scientific observation gave us theories about the physical universe and nature. As knowledge progressed, science and religion clashed. Important libraries were developed to house the books written on medicine and astronomy. Interactions and learning were shared by different cultures. European universities were built and became important centers of learning to share scientific discoveries and ideas.
The importance of mathematics and Galileo's discoveries opened the path to modern science. The author emphasizes how scientific observations which resulted in the laws of physics affects all change in our lives. It is the comprehensive laws of motion which opened up the field of physics to explore new scientific theories, make observations and create experiments using mathematical formulas to describe and explain quantum mechanics. Ever since the relationships between subatomic matter and energy have been explained and partly understood life on planet earth has not been the same. Needless to say, the author does an astonishing job of describing Newton's discoveries, importance of Rutherford's scientific observations about mysterious emanations (alpha, beta and gamma rays), Planck's quantum, Einstein's photon, the importance of Einstein's theory of relativity, Bohr's observations and experiments which lead to his new atomic theory and several others upon which all this science was built. All previous discoveries became the foundational framework upon which Heisenberg was able to build his revolutionary quantum theory called "Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle" which he explained was not really a principle but rather described the limitation of quantum mechanics. The author includes significant historical, social and world events which affected the lives of important scientists during the discovery of principles associated with quantum physics which provides a well rounded, fascinating context to understand the impact of this new science on the modern world. For those who love science and want to explore the mysteries of the universe this book will help you do it. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
Long before humans achieved the ‘philosophical luxury’ of pondering our place in the universe there were down-to-earth problems to solve (like sustaining populations in cities with ample resources) and authorities to be both assuaged and challenged (often religious/quasi-political).
The history of what we today regard as mathematically rational, experimentally rigorous, institutionalized science is made up of relatively few apocryphal ‘apple-on-the-head’ moments and far more iterative, uncredited, misguided attempts, false starts, petty rivalries and eccentric pursuits. It often wasn’t elegant or pretty getting there and many of the individuals involved would be hard pressed to secure positions in today’s universities or industries. Mlodinow paints vivid character portraits of some of the better and less-well-known among them.
The discussion of chemistry as a poor cousin to theoretical physics, with the former’s roots in practical trades such as embalming and quasi-esoteric alchemy was very entertaining. Mlodinow takes what might be called a ‘Pro-Theodoric of York’ position that medieval medicine and alchemy have gotten something of a historical bad rap.
There are few illustrations and diagrams - not necessarily a bad thing in a book that presumes a scientific inclination in readers. But I felt some opportunities for added clarity were missed, such as the explanation of Newton’s terminal velocity.
Unfortunately, as the book moved through Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein and more familiar territory, it became less-original and not unlike other popular science histories I've read. Very long chapters – 40-50 pages a pop – didn’t help matters and, while Mlodinow has both scientific credibility and admirable writing chops, the pacing plodded and at times really bogged down – the chapter on Newton was extremely slow-going.
The jokes and meta-narrative sprinkled throughout became excessive to the point where certain sentences and paragraphs felt like setups for punch lines - intrusive and just plain not-funny.
While Mlodinov does an admirable job injecting his own humanity into the book with numerous references to his kids and his father, along with his own awakening and initiation into the guild of scientists, I often felt as though he was bored with his own story and in need of diversion, or he was trying a little too hard to be the ‘cool professor’.
While I enjoyed the more original and unexpected parts of ‘The Upright Thinkers’ and picked up some interesting tidbits, as a ‘book-length experience’ I don’t think Mlodinow quite pulls off what he attempts, especially for those who’ve read a fair share of popular science titles.