The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

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9780393337938: The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

"Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place." ―Publishers Weekly

While we may be familiar with some of science’s greatest equations, we may not know that each and every equation emerged not in "Eureka!" moments but in years of cultural developments and scientific knowledge. With vignettes full of humor, drama, and eccentricity, philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease shares the stories behind ten of history’s greatest equations, from the "first equation," 1 + 1 = 2, which promises a rational, well-ordered world, to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which reveals the limitations of human knowledge. For every equation, Crease provides a brief account of who discovered it, what dissatisfactions lay behind its discovery, and what the equation says about the nature of our world.

43 illustrations

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About the Author:

Robert P. Crease writes the "Critical Point" column in Physics World and is a professor of philosophy at Stony Brook University. His books include The Great Equations and World in the Balance.

From Publishers Weekly:

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 Schrödinger 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. 43 illus. (Jan.)
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