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.
"In 1948, Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the electronic semiconductor and its revolutionary ability to do anything a vacuum tube could do but more efficiently. While the revolution in communications was taking these steps, Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon helped to write a monograph for them, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, in which he coined the word 'bit' to name a fundamental unit of computer information. As bestselling author Gleick (Chaos) astutely argues, Shannon's neologism profoundly changed our view of the world; his brilliant work introduced us to the notion that a tiny piece of hardware could transmit messages that contained meaning and that a physical unit, a bit, could measure a quality as elusive as information. Shannon's story is only one of many in this sprawling history of information. With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and including along the way scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph; Norbert Wiener, who developed cybernetics; and Ada Byron, the great Romantic poet's daughter, who collaborated with Charles Babbage in developing the first mechanical computer. Gleick's exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (starred review) (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
"Accessible and engrossing." Library Journal
"[A] tour de force....This is intellectual history of tremendous verve, insight, and significance. Unfailingly spirited, often poetic, Gleick recharges our astonishment over the complexity and resonance of the digital sphere and ponders our hunger for connectedness....Destined to be a science classic, best-seller Gleick's dynamic history of information will be one of the biggest nonfiction books of the year." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Accessible and engrossing." Library Journal
“The author’s skills as an interpreter of science shine...for completist cybergeeks and infojunkies, the book delivers a solid summary of a dense, complex subject.” Kirkus
“So ambitious, illuminating and sexily theoretical that it will amount to aspirational reading for many of those who have the mettle to tackle it... The Information is to the nature, history and significance of data what the beach is to sand.” New York Times
"No author is better equipped for such a wide- ranging tour than Mr. Gleick. Some writers excel at crafting a historical narrative, others at elucidating esoteric theories, still others at humanizing scientists. Mr. Gleick is a master of all these skills." Wall Street Journal
“A grand narrative if ever there was one...Gleick provides lucid expositions for readers who are up to following the science and suggestive analogies for those who are just reading for the plot. And there are anecdotes that every reader can enjoy...A prodigious intellectual survey.” New York Times Book Review
“A brilliant, panoramic view of how we save and communicate knowledge...and provides thrilling portraits of the geniuses behind the inventions. Provocative and illuminating.” People
“Expertly draws out neglected names and stories from history...Gleick’s skill as an expicator of counterintuitive concepts makes the chapters on logic, the stuff even most philosophy majors slept through in class, brim with tension.” Oregonlive.com
"Tremendously enjoyable. Gleick has an eye and ear for the catchy detail and observation...offers a broad and fascinating foundation, impressive in its reach. A very good read, certainly recommended." The Complete Review
"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)
"Every decade, there are a handful of books that change the way you look at everything. This is one of those books. Society has begun to reckon the change that big data will bring. This book is an incredibly important start."
—Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and author of Remix and Free Culture
"This brilliant book cuts through the mystery and the hype surrounding big data.
A must-read for anyone in business, information technology, public policy, intelligence, and medicine. And anyone else who is just plain curious about the future."
—John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corp., and head of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center "Big Data breaks new ground in identifying how todays avalanche of information fundamentally shifts our basic understanding of the world. Argued boldly and written beautifully, the book clearly shows how companies can unlock value, how policymakers need to be on guard, and how everyones cognitive models need to change."
—Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab "Big Data is a must-read for anyone who wants to stay ahead of one of the key trends defining the future of business."
—Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, salesforce.com "An optimistic and practical look at the Big Data revolution — just the thing to get your head around the big changes already underway and the bigger changes to come."
—Cory Doctorow, boingboing.com "Just as water is wet in a way that individual water molecules arent, big data can reveal information in a way that individual bits of data cant. The authors show us the surprising ways that enormous, complex, and messy collections of data can be used to predict everything from shopping patterns to flu outbreaks."
—Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus and Here Comes Everybody "The book teems with great insights on the new ways of harnessing information, and offers a convincing vision of the future. It is essential reading for anyone who uses — or is affected by — big data."
—Jeff Jonas, IBM Fellow & Chief Scientist, IBM Entity Analytics “What Im certain about is that Big Data will be the defining text in the discussion for some time to come.”
“The authors make clear that ‘big data is much more than a Silicon Valley buzzword… No other book offers such an accessible and balanced tour of the many benefits and downsides of our continuing infatuation with data.”
—Wall Street Journal
"Plenty of books extol the technical marvels of our information society, but this is an original analysis of the information itself—trillions of searches, calls, clicks, queries and purchases....A fascinating, enthusiastic view of the possibilities of vast computer correlations and the entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of them."
—STARRED Kirkus Reviews
"This book offers important insights and information"
"'big data' [is] one of the buzzwords of corporate executives, tech-savvy politicians, and worried civil libertarians. If you want to know what theyre all talking about, then Big Data is the book for you, a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to a very large topic....Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier offer up some sensible suggestions on how we can have the blessings of big data and our freedoms, too. Just as well; their lively book leaves no doubt that big datas growth spurt is just beginning."
James Gleick, the author of the best sellers Chaos
, now brings us a work just as astonishing and masterly: a revelatory chronicle and meditation that shows how information has become the modern era's defining quality — the blood, the fuel, the vital principle of our world.
The story of information begins in a time profoundly unlike our own, when every thought and utterance vanishes as soon as it is born. From the invention of scripts and alphabets to the long-misunderstood talking drums of Africa, Gleick tells the story of information technologies that changed the very nature of human consciousness. He provides portraits of the key figures contributing to the inexorable development of our modern understanding of information: Charles Babbage, the idiosyncratic inventor of the first great mechanical computer; Ada Byron, the brilliant and doomed daughter of the poet, who became the first true programmer; pivotal figures like Samuel Morse and Alan Turing; and Claude Shannon, the creator of information theory itself.
And then the information age arrives. Citizens of this world become experts willy-nilly: aficionados of bits and bytes. And we sometimes feel we are drowning, swept by a deluge of signs and signals, news and images, blogs and tweets. The Information is the story of how we got here and where we are heading.
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.
A revelatory exploration of emerging trends in "big data"—our newfound ability to gather and interpret vast amounts of information—and the revolutionary effects these developments are producing in business, science, and society at large.
A revelatory exploration of the hottest trend in technology and the dramatic impact it will have on the economy, science, and society at large.
Which paint color is most likely to tell you that a used car is in good shape? How can officials identify the most dangerous New York City manholes before they explode? And how did Google searches predict the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak?
The key to answering these questions, and many more, is big data. “Big data” refers to our burgeoning ability to crunch vast collections of information, analyze it instantly, and draw sometimes profoundly surprising conclusions from it. This emerging science can translate myriad phenomena—from the price of airline tickets to the text of millions of books—into searchable form, and uses our increasing computing power to unearth epiphanies that we never could have seen before. A revolution on par with the Internet or perhaps even the printing press, big data will change the way we think about business, health, politics, education, and innovation in the years to come. It also poses fresh threats, from the inevitable end of privacy as we know it to the prospect of being penalized for things we havent even done yet, based on big datas ability to predict our future behavior.
In this brilliantly clear, often surprising work, two leading experts explain what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards. Big Data is the first big book about the next big thing.
About the Author
VIKTOR MAYER-SCHÖNBERGER is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University. The co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We, Live, Work, and Think, he has published over a hundred articles and eight other books, including Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. He is on the advisory boards of corporations and organizations around the world, including Microsoft and the World Economic Forum.
KENNETH CUKIER is the Data Editor of the Economist and co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. His writings on business and economics have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and elsewhere.
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