The Perfect Theory

The Perfect Theory

A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity

Book - 2014
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Houghton
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 universe’s 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.

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.

Baker & Taylor
A narrative chronicle of Einstein's theory of general relativity discusses the ideological battles that have surrounded it, exploring how the theory has been denounced, overlooked and embraced by forefront names in 20th-century physics throughout their collective effort to define the history of the universe. 25,000 first printing.

Baker
& Taylor

A narrative chronicle of Einstein's theory of general relativity discusses the ideological battles that have surrounded it, exploring how the theory has been denounced, overlooked, and embraced by physicists throughout their collective effort to define the history of the universe.
"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 takeus"--

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2014
ISBN: 9780547554891
Branch Call Number: 530.11 FER
Characteristics: xv, 288 p. ;,24 cm.

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j
John_M
Apr 07, 2016

A good primer on the history of the theories of gravity.

m
mckeett
Nov 08, 2014

Not a particularly stimulating read. Basically a history of the general theory of relativity but with not much technical insight. It would be nice to know things like what the equations looked like, what assumptions led to the equations, and how it was possible to just add or remove a “cosmological constant”. Cosmology is an odd science because you can’t actually do experiments to test your theories except once in awhile you observe something in the cosmos. So, it explained the precession in Mercury’s orbit, light bending around massive objects, and black holes. The discussion about the need for dark matter and dark energy that we can’t see is brief and not particularly convincing. Who is to say that our observations of stuff millions of light years away isn’t affected by something we don’t know like a changing speed of light? But let’s posit dark energy and dark matter that make up most of the universe but we can’t see; and add back in the arbitrary cosmological constant. In again out again. I guess it’s not Ferreira’s fault that the theory sounds flaky when described in a historical context.

It may be difficult to give much technical insight about general relativity in a book of this type, but it would be nice then to get interesting stories about the people involved. The book mentions a large number of people who worked on the theory and experiments over the years, but not with much personal insight or interesting stories. The chapter on gravitational waves was interesting because of the way Weber’s behavior was described in some detail. The last two chapters were more personal because the author mentioned himself and some of his own interactions with people. Otherwise, no interesting stores.

I had to wait quite a while to get the book and I found it not that exciting. I liked much better the approach taken by Marcia Bartusiak in her book "Archives of the Universe" where each chapter highlighted the life of a particular scientist and then showed a copy of their seminal paper on the subject.

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