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Customer Review

on May 30, 2000
Cercignani provides a stimulating biography of a great scientist. Boltzmann's greatness is difficult to state, but the fact that the author is still actively engaged in research into some of the finer, as yet unresolved issues provoked by Boltzmann's work is a measure of just how far ahead of his time Boltzmann was. It is also tragic to read of Boltzmann's persecution by his contemporaries, the energeticists, who regarded atoms as a convenient hypothesis, but not as having a definite existence. Boltzmann felt that atoms were real and this motivated much of his research. How Boltzmann would have laughed if he could have seen present-day scanning tunnelling microscopy images, which resolve the atomic structure at surfaces! If only all scientists would learn from Boltzmann's life story that it is bad for science to persecute someone whose views you do not share but cannot disprove. One surprising fact I learned from this book was how research into thermodynamics and statistical mechanics led to the beginnings of quantum theory (such as Planck's distribution law, and Einstein's theory of specific heat). Lecture notes by Boltzmann also seem to have influenced Einstein's construction of special relativity. Cercignani's familiarity with Boltzmann's work at the research level will probably set this above other biographies of Boltzmann for a very long time to come.
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