An extraordinarily accessible, illuminating chronicle of the great moments of scientific discovery in the 20th century, and an exploration into the minds of the remarkable men and women behind them.
We know and read the literary masterpieces; how many of us have had the opportunity not only to read but understand the masterpieces of science that describe the very moment of discovery? The last century has seen an explosion of creativity and insight that led to breakthroughs in every field of science: from the theory of relativity to the first quantum model of the atom to the mapping of the structure of DNA, these discoveries profoundly changed how we understand the world and our place in it.
Alan Lightman tells the stories of two dozen breakthroughs made by such brilliant scientists as Einstein, Bohr, McClintock and Pauling, among others, drawing on his unique background as a scientist and novelist to reveal the process of scientific discovery at its greatest. He outlines the intellectual and emotional landscape of each discovery, portrays the personalities and human drama of the scientists involved, and explains the significance and impact of the work. Finally, he gives an unprecedented and exhilarating guided tour through each of the original papers.
In this enlightening collection, novelist and science writer Lightman (Einstein's Dreams) has assembled the original works announcing 25 of the world's pioneering scientific breakthroughs, coupling them with original essays to create a meditation on the "exhilaration of discovery." The lineup is a who's who of 20th-century science Einstein, Planck, Fleming ranging from quantum physics to astronomy, medicine, genetics and chemistry. Lightman is at his best when humanizing the scientists behind the world's major discoveries; he offers a stunning recollection from Caltech in the 1970s, when he was a graduate student, of Richard Feynman virulently attacking a world-weary Werner Heisenberg, author of the uncertainty principle, for a terrible lecture and, implicitly, for having worked on an atom bomb for the Nazis. Unfortunately, the heart of the collection, the landmark papers themselves, will prove to be stultifying and unintelligible for readers not well versed in science. Still, Lightman's elegant accompanying narratives are strong enough to carry the book. In an age when science is expanding at a faster clip than ever before, from supercomputing to cloning, this collection is a well-timed reminder of the humanity that surrounds and indeed drives scientific discovery. B&w photos.