Synopses & Reviews
In
Cosmic Numbers, mathematics professor James Stein traces the discovery, evolution, and interrelationships of the great numbers that define our world. Some numbers, like the speed of light and absolute zero, are well known to the general public. Others, such as Boltzmanns constant and the Chandrasekhar limit, are known only to those with a deep knowledge of science. But these numbers do far more than the average person might dare to imagine: they tell us how this world began, the way we were and the way we are, and what the future holds. Stein reveals the manner in which certain cosmic numbers came to light, the dramatis personae involved, and cutting-edge developments associated with these numbers. Many are the cornerstones of grand discoveries and theories. They represent landmarks in the history of intellectual achievement. And the stories of these numbers offer a novel understanding of physics, chemistry, and astronomy.
Much more than a gee-whiz collection, Cosmic Numbers illuminates why particular numbers are so importantboth to scientists and to the rest of us.
Review
KirkusCheerful but not dumbed-down.... Every educated reader should know what these numbers mean. Stein casts his net widely, delivering an entertaining history of each, often wandering into areas of science only distantly related but no less worthwhile.”
Booklist
In the explanatory power of fundamental numbers, Stein discerns the fundamental harmonies that emerge in the most profound science. Stein teases these harmonies out of their formulas and then weaves them into a broader conceptual fabric
By turns amusing and poignant, Steins engaging style eases general readers past their fears of scientific math, while also guiding them into a deeper appreciation of the stubborn human complexities of the scientists behind that mat.... Numbers become portals to mind-expanding questions.”
The Boston Globe
A brisk, fun ride
Stein is good at extracting drama from the brilliant minds and experiments that fill his book, and its impossible to read it without gaping in awe at just how much science got done in the days prior to statistical analysis software and multicore processors.”
New Scientist
Amid seemingly endless strings of equations, a handful of numbers stand out. These are the physical constants, numbers that hold their true value in any situationthe unbreakable scaffolding of reality. In Cosmic Numbers, mathematician James Stein offers a tour of some of these constants.... These are numbers we take for granted today, but Stein stresses the lengths people went to determine them. There is plenty of interesting background too.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
The author cajoles the reader to enjoy the spirit of discovery with him, keeping a light style of narrative. Nevertheless, Stein does not shy away from introducing mathematical formulae as well as precise descriptions of the science involved, sometimes in a rather condensed form. The nonscientific reader need not be intimidated by these.... This book will appeal to a wide audience of readers who are curious to know more about the discovery of the laws that govern our universe.... [A]n enjoyable and informative read.”
Ian Stewart, author of The Mathematics of Life
A vivid exploration of todays science, from the forces that keep our planet in orbit to the origin of the atoms that form our bodies. Clear and concise, easy to read, and enormously informative, Cosmic Numbers relates the stories behind some of the most important numbers in sciencewhere they came from, what they tell us, and how they changed the way we view our world.”
John L. Casti, Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Vienna, and author of Mood Matters, Paradigms Lost, Five Golden Rules, and The Cambridge Quintet
Most people use numbers like 1, 2, 3 ... to count. But the numbers that really count are the ones described in this book! They tell us why we see the universe we do and not see something else. After reading this very enlightening, informative and entertaining book, youll see why some numbers are just a bit more equal than others.”
Leonard Wapner, El Camino College
We memorized them in our high school science classes. Now Jim Stein teaches us to appreciate natures constants by giving us the stories and the personalities behind their discovery. Its an enjoyable and thought provoking read.”
Paul J. Nahin, author of Number-Crunching and An Imaginary Tale
It would seem trivially obvious to say all numbers are not equal. Some numbers are especially important, however, not because of mathematics but because of physics. This book discusses the history and use of thirteen such numbers, which if only slightly different would make the world we live in a vastly different placeor simply not even possible. After reading James Steins Cosmic Numbers youll understand why existence itself is in the numbers.”
The Guardian (UK)
[Cosmic Numbers] is a story of mans lust for measurement...and also a persuasive explanation of why it is worth measuring such apparently arcane phenomena very exactly.”
Wall Street Journal
[O]ur understanding of the universe depends on assuming that constants stay constant. Which is why the slew of digits discussed in James D. Steins Cosmic Numbers are so important. These numerical values define reality.... [E]ach constant is more than a numerical value. It unpacks to provide a story, giving historical context to what might otherwise be a dry piece of physics.... In a book about numbers, of course, readers getting lost in thickets of math is always a dangercall it a constant. But Mr. Stein succeeds in guiding us quickly back to the matters of most interest in his rewarding essays on the foundations of the universe.”
San Francisco Book Review
Great fun.... Stein is a lively teller of this exacting tale of scientific discovery.”
CHOICE
Stein writes in a manner readily accessible to the uninitiated and liberally sprinkles the book with humor.... Rewards for [readers] lie in the fascinating details about the lives of some of the scientists discussed that are not generally known.”
About the Author
James D. Stein is a past member of the Institute of Advanced Studies and is currently a Professor of Mathematics at California State University (Long Beach). His list of publications is extensive and includes: How to Shoot from the Hip Without Getting Shot in the Foot (with Herbert L. Stone and Charles V. Harlow); How Math Explains the World (a Scientific American Book Club selection); The Right Decision (also a Scientific American Book Club selection); and How Math Can Save Your Life. He has been a guest blogger for Psychology Today and his work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times.