Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed New York Times
science writer George Johnson, an irresistible book on the ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply.
Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were dazzled by light, by electricity, and by the beating of the hearts they laid bare on the dissecting table.
We see Galileo singing to mark time as he measures the pull of gravity, and Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his eye to learn how light causes vibrations in the retina. William Harvey ties a tourniquet around his arm and watches his arteries throb above and his veins bulge below, proving that blood circulates. Luigi Galvani sparks electrical currents in dissected frog legs, wondering at the twitching muscle fibers, and Ivan Pavlov makes his now-famous dogs salivate at ascending chord progressions.
For all of them, diligence was rewarded. In an instant, confusion was swept aside and something new about nature leaped into view. In bringing us these stories, Johnson restores some of the romance to science, reminding us of the existential excitement of a single soul staring down the unknown.
"Award-winning science writer Johnson (A Fire in the Mind; Strange Beauty) calls readers away from the 'industrialized' mega-scale of modern science (which requires multimillion-dollar equipment and teams of scientists) to appreciate 10 historic experiments whose elegant simplicity revealed key features of our bodies and our world. Some of the experiments Johnson describes have a sense of whimsy, like Galileo measuring the speed of balls rolling down a ramp to the regular beat of a song, or Isaac Newton cutting holes in window shades and scrambling around with a prism to break light into its component colors. Other experiments such as William Harvey's use of vivisected animals to demonstrate the circulation of blood, and the 'truncated frogs' Luigi Galvani used in his study of the nervous system remind us of changing attitudes toward animal research. Joule's effort to show that heat and work are related ways of converting energy into motion, Michelson's work to measure the speed of light, Millikan's sensitive apparatus for measuring the charge of an electron: these experiments toppled contemporary dogma with their logic and clear design as much as with their results. With these 10 entertaining histories, Johnson reminds us of a time when all research was hands-on and 'the most earthshaking science came from... a single mind confronting the unknown.' 73 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Johnson exerts classic appeal to science readers: presenting the lone genius making a great discovery." Booklist
"Illustrated with the experimenters' own sketches, as well as portraits of each of the canonized 10, the narrative is accessible and a far cry from the aridity of a textbook." School Library Journal
"Johnson has a good feel for detail...and an easy touch with larger concepts...[his] lively book nicely evokes the lost world of the tabletop experiment." New York Times
"Johnson documents the creativity, rivalries, mistakes and despair that power great breakthroughs and explains each experiment in clear language that makes the book accessible to the lay reader." St. Petersburg Times
"Pays wonderful homage to the science and scientists that helped create the modern world." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
George Johnson writes regularly about science for The New York Times. He has also written for Scientific American, The Atlantic Monthly, Time, Slate, and Wired, and his work has been included in The Best American Science Writing. He has received awards from PEN and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and his books were twice finalists for the Rhone-Poulenc Prize. He is a co-director of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, and he lives in Santa Fe.
Table of Contents
1. Galileo: The Way Things Really Move
2. William Harvey: Mysteries of the Heart
3. Isaac Newton: What a Color Is
4. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier: The Farmers Daughter
5. Luigi Galvani: Animal Electricity
6. Michael Faraday: Something Deeply Hidden
7. James Joule: How the World Works
8. A. A. Michelson: Lost in Space
9. Ivan Pavlov: Measuring the Immeasurable
10. Robert Millikan: In the Borderland
Epilogue: The Eleventh Most Beautiful Experiment
Notes and Bibliography