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 theorys 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.. Einsteins 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 Hitlers Germany, hounded in Stalins 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 Einsteins 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.
"It was cosmologist Fred Hoyle who coined the term 'big bang' to describe the notion that the universe exploded out of nothing to kick-start space and time. Ironically, Hoyle himself espoused the steady state theory, positing that the universe is eternal and never really changes. Former BBC producer and science writer Singh (Fermat's Enigma) recounts in his inimitable down-to-earth style how the big bang theory triumphed. Readers will find here one of the best explanations available of how Cepheid stars are used to estimate the distance of other galaxies. Singh highlights some of the lesser-known figures in the development of the big bang theory, like Henrietta Leavitt, a volunteer 'computer' at the Harvard College Observatory who in 1912 discovered how Cepheid stars can be used to measure galactic distances. Singh shows how the creation of the heavier elements was a major stumbling block to widespread adoption of the big bang until Hoyle (once again boosting the theory that he so fervently opposed) proved that they were created in stars' nuclear furnaces and strewn throughout the universe via supernova explosions. Readers who don't need a review of the early development of cosmology may wish that Singh had adopted a somewhat less leisurely pace. But his introductory chapters hold a lot of worthwhile material, clearly presented for the science buff and lay reader. There's no better account of the big bang theory than this. B&w photos and illus. Agent, Patrick Walsh at Carville and Walsh, London. (Jan. 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This book is a blast...who knew that the Big Bang could be so much fun?" James Gleick, bestselling author of Chaos and Faster
"An expert but friendly guide to help you decode the mysteries [of the universe] with crisp, clear running commentary." Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
"As in his previous books, Mr Singh explains even the most complicated ideas with subtlety, grace and wit...Exemplary." The Economist
"Singh's unerring eye for picturesque anecdotes and his capacity for simplifying complex scientific ideas is a winning formula." Saturday Daily Telegraph (London)
“An excellent account of one of the most dramatic and moving events of the century.” New York Times on Fermat's Enigma
“A clear, lively, and comprehensive view of the way science arrived at the leading theory of how everything began.”- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Inimitable. . . . Theres no better account of the big bang theory.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Highly readable… Singh brings the colourful protagonists in his story to life.” New Scientist
“Brings together...the geniuses who have secured communications, saved lives, and influenced the fate of nations. A pleasure to read.” Chicago Tribune on The Code Book
“Entertaining and satisfying. . . . Offers a fascinating glimpse into the mostly secret competition between codemakers and codebreakers.” USA Today on The Code Book
“Singh spins tales of cryptic intrigue in every chapter.” Wall Street Journal on The Code Book
“An absorbing tale of codemaking and codebreaking over the centuries.” Scientific American on The Code Book
“Fascinating…Simon Singh loves storytelling and has a knack for digging up underappreciated characters.” New York Newsday
“(Singh) is a gifted expositor, ready to venture to places other science popularisers dont even try to reach.” The Mail (on Sunday)
“Singh is a gifted writer…a good storyteller…and [he] knows how to describe and explain complex and esoteric subjects.” San Diego Union-Tribune
“Its hard to imagine a grander, more thrilling story…fast-paced…hugely entertaining…Big Bang is, quite literally, cosmic.” New York Times
“Enthralling...commendably lucid...[Singhs] book provides a timely and entertaining summary of the subject.” Economist on The Code Book
“The history of mathematics comes alive even for those who dread balancing their checkbooks.” Publishers Weekly on Fermat's Enigma
“Singh is one of the best science journalists writing today...Impressive.” London Times (Sunday)
"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." —Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal
"In The Perfect Theory, Ferreira masterfully portrays the science and scientists behind general relativity's star-crossed history and argues that even now we are only just beginning to realize its vitality as a tool for understanding the cosmos." —Scientific American "The Perfect Theory is a rollicking good read. We watch as Einsteins brilliant successors struggle and squabble about everything from black holes to quantum gravity. With crisp explanations and narrative flair, Ferreira offers us a fun, fresh take on a magnificent part of modern science." —Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, author of The Joy of x "Einsteins general theory of relativity was the greatest of his many contributions to physics, but surprisingly little has been written about how the subject blossomed after his death, with profound implications for current cosmology and astrophysics. Pedro Ferreira provides an enthralling account of the ideas and personalities of those involved." —Sir Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford "Pedro Ferreira portrays a community ensnared by a single great idea. With vivid detail, he brings to life the awesome story of one of humanitys greatest achievements." —Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Barnard College/Columbia University, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots "Einstein's general relativity is a theory of unrivaled elegance and simplicity. But the history of general relativity is messy, unpredictable, and occasionally dramatic. Pedro Ferreira is an expert guide to the twists and turns scientists have gone through in a quest to understand space and time." —Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe "A fascinating introduction to our present understanding of space, time, and gravity, and to the confusion about how to go about finding a still better theory." —P. James Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science, Princeton University "Einstein's beautiful theory is is now, more than ever, one of the liveliest frontiers of science, and crucial to our understanding of the cosmos. Pedro Ferreira describes, accessibly and non-technically, how the key breakthroughs have been made, and the personalities who made them." —Lord Martin Rees, Great Britains Astronomer Royal "You couldn't ask for a better guide to the outer reaches of the universe and the inner workings of the minds of those who've navigated it." —Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford, author of The Music of the Primes "Ferreira does not downplay relativitys 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) "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 didnt work in a vacuum; international collaboration made confirmation of his theory possible, while overturning some initial conclusions. Perhaps most importantly, Ferreiras 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." —Publishers Weekly "No book better prepares armchair physicists for the intellectual excitement ahead!" —Booklist (starred review)
We've all heard of the Big Bang, and yet few of us truly know what it is.
Renowned for making difficult ideas much less difficult than they might first appear, Simon Singh is our perfect guide to explaining why cosmologists believe that the Big Bang is an accurate description of the origin and evolution of the universe.
This highly readable and entertaining book tells the story of the many brilliant, often eccentric scientists who fought against the establishment idea of an eternal and unchanging cosmos. From such early Greek cosmologists as Anaximander to recent satellite measurements taken deep in space, Big Bang is a narrative full of anecdotes and personal histories. With characteristic clarity, Simon Singh tells the centuries-long story of mankind's attempt to understand how the universe came to be, a story which itself begins some 14 billion years ago (give or take a billion years). Simon Singh shows us that it is within the capability of all of us (in his expert hands) to understand the Big Bang: the fundamental theory in all of science, and a high point (perhaps the high point) of human achievement.
On the eve of the theory's 100th birthday, here is the first complete biography of Einsteins 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.
About the Author
Simon Singh received his Ph.D. in particle physics from the University of Cambridge. A former BBC producer, he directed the BAFTA Award-winning documentary film Fermat's Last Theorem and wrote Fermat's Enigma, the best-selling book on the same subject. His best seller The Code Book was the basis for the BBC series The Science of Secrecy.
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