The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

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9780393062045: The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg
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Philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease tells the stories behind ten of the greatest equations in human history. Was Nobel laureate Richard Feynman really joking when he called Maxwell's electromagnetic equations the most significant event of the nineteenth century? How did Newton's law of gravitation influence young revolutionaries? Why has Euler's formula been called "God's equation," and why did a mysterious ecoterrorist make it his calling card? What role do betrayal, insanity, and suicide play in the second law of thermodynamics? The Great Equations tells the stories of how these equations were discovered, revealing the personal struggles of their ingenious originators. From "1 + 1 = 2" to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Crease locates these equations in the panoramic sweep of Western history, showing how they are as integral to their time and place of creation as are great works of art.

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Although most people can recite Einstein's famous little equation, even if we don't know quite what it means, who has heard of the 18th-century mathematician Leonhard Euler, let alone know anything at all about his famous equation? Crease, a Stony Brook philosophy professor and popular science writer, has already taken on the ten most beautiful experiments in science in The Prism and the Pendulum, and in this enjoyable book he explores 10 rather beautiful equations. He begins with the beguiling simplicity of the equation that bears Pythogoras' name (although he says the Greek wasn't the first to discover it) and moves on to Newton's second law of motion and law of universal gravitation, the second law of thermodynamics, Maxwell's celebrated equations, discoveries by Einstein and Schrodinger and, finally, Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle. Crease explains the significance of each of these formulas for science and, in brief interludes between chapters, explores the journeys these scientists took from ignorance to knowledge, and the social lives of their theories-their impact on the larger culture. Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place.

[...] Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place.

Synopsis:

Shares behind-the-scenes stories for ten of the most significant equations in human history, covering a range of topics, from Feynman's statement about Maxwell's pivotal electromagnetic equations and the influence of Newton's law of gravitation to the reason Euler's formula has been called "God's equation" and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. 20

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Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010
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