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review 2017-03-19 16:48
Einstein: His Life And Universe - Walter Isaacson

This is an incredibly well researched, detailed account of all aspects of Einstein's life, personal, scientific and political that I can highly recommend to anybody interested. I learned heaps I didn't know and had the record set straight on a number of points, mainly regarding Einstein's political views, how they changed over time and his level of support for setting up the Manhattan Project.

 

I read the book with a specific research agenda, which was to independently form an opinion as to whether Einstein was autistic, an idea not first suggested by me and not on the author's mind either. Conclusion: Yep, autisticker than an autistic person with autism.

 

Towards the end there is an account of how Einstein was affected by and responded to McCarthyism. He was opposed, seeing in it the oppression of free speech and free thought characteristic of both Fascism and Communism. The author takes the view that McCarthyism was a passing fad, doomed to fail in the long term because of the greatness of the American Constitution. I found this level of complacency offensive to all the victims of McCarthy, all the people who spoke up in defense of freedoms and all the people who defended the constitution legally.

 

On it's own the constitution is nothing; without those people willing to risk reputation, career, even liberty, would McCarthyism have been a "passing fad"? Given the current political situation, we need such people more than ever. You disappoint me in this, Isaacson. Einstein, who used his world famous name to stand up for moderation, tolerance and freedom of thought and speech, does not.

 

Still, overall an excellent book.

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review 2017-03-12 17:22
Simply Dirac, Helge Kragh
Simply Dirac (Great Lives) - Helge Kragh Simply Dirac (Great Lives) - Helge Kragh

This is a brief introduction to Dirac's life and work. It's plain and day that he was autistic (probably had Asperger's Syndrome). It's also a shame he isn't more famous; his work on quantum theory has been extraordinarily influential, bringing field theories of fundamental interactions to dominance and inspiring popular and increasingly well supported ideas about cosmology (Inflation theories).

 

The book is unreliable regarding the state of current physical theory, suggesting that both electro-weak-strong unification and the cause of matter-antimatter abundance asymmetry are both correct and understood. Neither is the case. As far as I know the parts about Dirac's science are correct however, and hopefully the same is true of the biographical details.

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review 2016-12-26 10:05
Cosmology for Kids
The how and why wonder book of stars (How and why wonder books) - Norman Hoss

Since I am now writing a review on a children's book suggests that I am back at my parents' house which means that I have access to my brother's collection that basically dates back to when we were kids. Actually, this book dates back even earlier, namely because Pluto is still a planet and the moon landing hadn't happened. In fact the book only goes as far as speculating what it would be like if we were to send humans onto the moon (and I don't believe Kennedy had made his famous 'let us send men to the moon' speech yet, which makes me wonder if George Bush Jnr was trying to emulate him when he made the speech about sending humans to Mars). Anyway, as the title suggests, this book is basically about everything beyond Earth's atmosphere, though it does make some mention of the atmosphere because the atmosphere does have an effect upon how we perceive the universe as a whole.

 

So, the book is structured in a way that we first explore the history of astronomy, and the book is good here as it doesn't rest on the belief that the Earth was flat until somebody decided to sail around the Earth to prove otherwise. In fact they point out that the Ancient Greeks had long known about that and simply pointed to how boats, when they disappear over the horizon, still have their sails visible. After this we then move onto the cosmological foundations, starting at the Earth and then moving out to the rest of the universe. Apparently there is also a star chart in this book but I believe we may have lost it long ago.

 

I could criticise this book on the fact that they don't say anything about Dark Matter, or raise the idea as to why, if the universe is infinite, the sky dark. Well, the two problems are that first of all this is a kid's book, and secondly some of those concepts may not have been fully developed yet (I'm not a huge expert on the subject of Dark Matter so I can't go into specific details, especially off the top of my head). Mind you, when I make the suggestion that the universe is infinite that is a bit of a misnomer because there is a theoretical edge, that being the 'Cosmic Background Radiation', though the thing is that they spot at which we have found it is not the spot at which it is currently located because when we look out into the cosmos we are basically looking at it as it appeared to be years, centuries, millenia, or even longer ago – what we are seeing when we hit the cosmic background radiation is the point of time beyond which the universe did not exist, and while it may not have existed then, it certainly exists now.

 

One thing that they did pick up, though didn't go into details on, is the idea of the redshift, that is that galaxies, and in fact stars, are forever moving away from each other suggesting that the universe is expanding. Mind you, this idea sort of makes my head hurt, especially when they talk about galaxies colliding with each other since if galaxies are forever moving away, how can they collide with each other? Even then, at the distances and times that it takes for things to move across the galaxy, let alone the universe, and the incredibly short span of time that makes up our lives, I wouldn't be too concerned about the consequences of two galaxies colliding.

 

Talking about cosmic things colliding we do have comets, though the writers seem to go to incredible lengths to assure the readers that nothing bad is going to happen. Well, according to Lucifer's Hammer if the Earth were to pass through the coma of a comet then some rather bad things would happen to us, namely that civilisation would probably come to an end. Mind you, they talked about the Earth passing through the comet's tail as opposed to the coma, which probably wouldn't do anything as much, with the exception of some impressive light displays in the upper atmosphere. However, with the concept that ancient peoples freaked out when a comet appeared in the sky it makes me wonder if some time, in the distant past, there was such an event, the memory of which has been passed down through generations.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1850326623
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review 2016-11-23 05:38
The Quantum Age by Brian Clegg
The Quantum Age: How the Physics of the Very Small has Transformed Our Lives - Brian Clegg

Brain Clegg has written an interesting, if somewhat light, look at the origins, nature and uses of quantum physics.  Easy to read and understand.

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review 2016-11-21 16:39
Non-linear Dynamics and Chaos, Steven Strogatz
Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering - Steven H. Strogatz

I found this to be an excellent introduction to the subject, with clear explanations and extremely good organisation of the material. Examples build on each other in a logical fashion and make the pure mathematics concrete by using genuine scientific applications. The subject itself is fascinating and surprisingly mathematically tractable. The early chapters could be handled by anyone with A-level mathematics. Infrequent references to esoteric subjects like point-set topology are made for the sake of rigour but in fact can be totally ignored without loss of practical understanding of the techniques. Those needing more advanced material in any particular area will find adequate references.

 

Great stuff!

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