"A thoughtful meditation on the mythic, cultural, philosophical and, yes, scientific implications of what happens when a wet potato or a crystal vase slips from your hand."—Billy Collins
A mind-bending exploration of gravity, the universe's greatest mystery.
What is gravity? Nobody knows—and just about nobody knows that nobody knows. How something so pervasive can also be so mysterious, and how that mystery can be so wholly unrecognized outside the field of physics, is one of the greatest conundrums in modern science. But as award-winning author Richard Panek shows in this groundbreaking book, gravity is a cold case that we are closer to cracking than ever—and whose very investigation has yielded untold truths about the cosmos and humanity itself.
Part scientific detective story, part metaphysical romp, The Trouble with Gravity is a revelation: the first in-depth, accessible study of this ubiquitous, elusive force. Gravity and our efforts to understand it, Panek reveals, have shaped not only the world we inhabit, but also our bodies, minds, and culture. Its influence can be seen in everything from ancient fables to modern furniture, Dante’s Inferno to the pratfalls of Laurel and Hardy, bipedalism to black holes. As we approach the truth about gravity, we should also be prepared to know both our universe and ourselves as never before.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Nobody knows what gravity really is, but that hasn’t stopped science writer Richard Panek from trying to pin it down. In The Trouble with Gravity, he studies how humanity has conceived of this omnipresent-but-elusive force that holds the universe together. With a sustained sense of wonder, Panek finds the roots of science in our myths and poetry, uncovering the provocative side of something we only think we know. His rigorous-but-readable book won’t reveal what gravity is, but will challenge your view of the universe and our place in it.
Science writer Panek (The 4 Percent Universe) examines evolving theories of gravity in this thought-provoking volume, rounding up "the usual suspects Aristotle, Newton, Einstein" to reconstruct their preconceptions and interrogate their conclusions. From the rigid spheres-only cosmology of Aristotle, which forced mathematicians to try to manipulate "the math down here to match the motions up there," to Copernicus's equations introducing the "possibility that Earth was a planet like any other," to the experiments of Galileo establishing that a rolling ball "sped up at an unvarying rate," Panek demystifies early investigations of gravity with easy humor and a philosophical bent. In contemporary theories, readers learn "the velocity of light is finite in Maxwell's equations, too, but it's also, crucially, something else: constant," which, in the 1860s, shifted the paradigm once again. Ultimately, he observes, Aristotle's view of the universe held sway for two millennia, while "Einstein's lasted less than a decade," thanks to the introduction of quantum mechanics. Panek's inquisitive, fine-tuned narrative is full of character and, unlike many other books on physics, imbued with the friendly casualness of a coffee-shop chat. As such, it will delight both lay readers and serious students.