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The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativityby Pedro G. Ferreira
Synopses & Reviews
How did one elegant theory incite a scientific revolution?
Physicists have been exploring, debating, and questioning the general theory of relativity ever since Albert Einstein first presented it in 1915. Their work has uncovered a number of the universes more surprising secrets, and many believe further wonders remain hidden within the theory's tangle of equations, waiting to be exposed. In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, astrophysicist Pedro Ferreira brings general relativity to life through the story of the brilliant physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers who have taken up its challenge. For these scientists, the theory has been both a treasure trove and an enigma, fueling a century of intellectual struggle and triumph.
Einstein's theory, which explains the relationships among gravity, space, and time, is possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics, yet studying it has always been a controversial endeavor. Relativists were the target of persecution in Hitler's Germany, hounded in Stalin's Russia, and disdained in 1950s America. Even today, PhD students are warned that specializing in general relativity will make them unemployable. Despite these pitfalls, general relativity has flourished, delivering key insights into our understanding of the origin of time and the evolution of all the stars and galaxies in the cosmos. Its adherents have revealed what lies at the farthest reaches of the universe, shed light on the smallest scales of existence, and explained how the fabric of reality emerges. Dark matter, dark energy, black holes, and string theory are all progeny of Einstein's theory.
We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us.
"First formulated by Einstein in 1907, two years after publishing his special theory of relativity, the general theory of relativity has endured some hard times, having been challenged by quantum mechanics in the 1930s and by dialectical materialism in the Soviet Union during Stalin's reign. Even Einstein doubted some of his early conclusions. But Ferreira, a professor of astrophysics at Oxford, shares the story of general relativity's revival and application to previously unobservable objects like quasars and black holes. Ferreira's book is also about the people who find joy and excitement in discovering the secrets of the universe. With palpable delight, Ferreira details false starts, chance discoveries, and the vindication of long-ridiculed ideas that emerged from the work that predicted singularities, M-theory, and dark energy. He also shows that Einstein didn't work in a vacuum; international collaboration made confirmation of his theory possible, while overturning some initial conclusions. Perhaps most importantly, Ferreira's clear explanations offer a wonderful look into a world of those who tackle the hard math that is 'the key to understanding the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of... the cosmos.' Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville & Walsh (U.K.)." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"It's been a heck of a century for relativity, and The Perfect Theory is a perfect guide for this most beloved branch of modern physics." Wall Street Journal
"No book better prepares armchair physicists for the intellectual excitement ahead!" Booklist (starred review)
"Ferreira does not downplay relativity's complexity and avoids the easy route of oversimplifying it into a cosmic magic show. The result is one of the best popular accounts of how Einstein and his followers have been trying to explain the universe for decades." Kirkus (starred review)
On the eve of the theory's 100th birthday, here is the first complete biography of Einstein's theory of general relativity, revealing the personal feuds and ideological battles, the decades of neglect, the resurgence, and now, the deep questioning of a theory that has given us black holes, dark energy, and modern cosmology.
At the core of Einstein's general theory of relativity are a set of equations that explain the relationship among gravity, space, and time — possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. For over a century, physicists have been exploring, debating, and at times neglecting Einstein's theory in their quest to uncover the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of solar systems, stars, and galaxies.
In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, Pedro Ferreira explains the theory through the human drama surrounding it: the personal feuds and intellectual battles of the biggest names in twentieth-century physics, from Einstein and Eddington to Hawking and Penrose.
We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory engagingly reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us.
About the Author
Pedro G. Ferreira is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford. An expert in cosmology, the early universe and general relativity, he writes frequently for trade and academic science publications and is a regular commentator for the BBC.
Table of Contents
1. If a Person Falls Freely 1
2. The Most Valuable Discovery 12
3. Correct Mathematics, Abominable Physics 28
4. Collapsing Stars 47
5. Completely Cuckoo 66
6. Radio Days 85
7. Wheelerisms 100
8. Singularities 118
9. Unification Woes 137
10. Seeing Gravity 152
11. The Dark Universe 173
12. The End of Spacetime 193
13. A Spectacular Extrapolation 209
14. Something Is Going to Happen 223
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