by David Bodanis
Generations have grown up knowing that the equation E=mc2 changed the shape of our world but never understanding what it actually means and why it was so significant. In this book, David Bodanis writes the "biography" of one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history-that the realms of energy and matter are inescapably linked-and, through his skill as a writer and teacher, he turns a seemingly impenetrable theory into a dramatic and accessible human achievement.
Bodanis begins by devoting chapters to each of the equation's letters and symbols, introducing the science and scientists forming the backdrop to Einstein's discovery-from Ole Roemer's revelation that the speed of light could be measured to Michael Faraday's pioneering work on energy fields. Having demystified the equation, Bodanis explains its science and brings it to life historically, making clear the astonishing array of discoveries and consequences it made possible. It would prove to be a beacon throughout the 20th century, important to Ernest Rutherford, who discovered the structure of the atom, Enrico Fermi, who probed the nucleus, and Lise Meitner who finally understood how atoms could be split wide open. And it has come to inform our daily lives, governing everything from the atomic bomb to a television's cathode-ray tube to the carbon dating of prehistoric paintings.
At first, Einstein was unsure of what he had accomplished. "The argument is amusing and seductive," he wrote to a friend, "but for all I know, the Lord may be laughing over it and leading me down the garden path." In fact, Einstein did nothing less then open the door to the inner structure of the universe. In David Bodanis's skilled hands, that achievement is an uncommonly good story.
Walker, 2000, 337 pages, dimensions please, hardcover
Walker, 2000, 337 p., b&w; photos, hardcover
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