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E=mc²: A Biography of the World's Most…

E=mc²: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation (2000)

by David Bodanis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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If science is not your thing but biography is this is the book for you. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Jan 30, 2015 |
Excellent. The first chapters actually pertain to the equation components E, "equals sign", m, C and yes, "squared". The remainder is comprised of the history of relativity and atomic theory, with plenty of real lives drama among the various scientists (Einstein's life comprises only s small portion of this). The description of the Hiroshima bomb and the eventual demise of the sun, are awe-inspiring. I still don't know what the darn equation means but it was a heck of an entertaining book. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Dec 14, 2012 |
How does one write the "biography" of an equation? Sure, it's "born" whenever the person invents it, but equations can't exactly grow up, marry and die, at least not in the way living things can. David Bodanis's approach to biography is to first explain each part of the equation (E, =, m, c2) and the scientific developments that led to these elements being used in common scientific parlance, and then to trace the history of the whole equation, from when Einstein first developed it to how the universe will eventually end, in keeping with the principles of the equation.

This was a very satisfactory book. I learned a lot about some of the early French scientists, like Lavoisier, Emilie du Châtelet (who was great! people need to know about her) and Henri Poincaré, as well as some other unsung female scientists such as Cecilia Payne, whose sexist thesis advisor made me want to go back in time and smack him. There was even a WW2 commando raid! I love when those show up in unexpected places in my reading. In this case it was on a heavy water plant in Norway, which was part of the Germans' effort to build an atom bomb.

From a scientific standpoint, the most memorable chapters were the one where Bodanis explains in subatomic detail exactly how the bomb dropped on Hiroshima wrought its horrific damage, and the one where he explains how the universe will end. The latter is probably not the best thing to read right before bed, because it's kind of depressing.

So the question is, how much scientific background do you need to appreciate this book? Well, there is a certain amount of detail when he explains the physics behind the equation, but for the most part I was able to follow along, and my formal science education stopped in Grade 11. The only way to know is to give it a try! ( )
2 vote rabbitprincess | Aug 16, 2012 |
I don't usually enjoy science books which are focused more on the biographies of the scientists than on the science itself, but perhaps because Bodanis is a historian, he carries of this mix of biography and science very well. A strong secondary theme is the waste of scientific talent caused by the sexism that has historically held back female scientists, several of whom are included in this tale. ( )
1 vote timjones | Jun 9, 2012 |
Quick Version:

This book is a well laid out explanation of each part of the equation, its history, and its role in our universe.

Long Version:

The genesis of David Bodanis’ book was an interview he read in which actress Cameron Diaz expressed the desire-serious or in jest-to know what E=mc² really meant. Bodanis realized that the truth is that very few people have even a rudimentary knowledge of the usefulness of the world’s most famous equation; this book is his attempt to rectify that.

The format chosen is an interesting one. Those who are true novices to physics-or lack interest in pursuing the equation beyond the basics-can read the front half of the book and walk away far more knowledgeable than they were when they picked it up. After a brief introduction to the time and place in which Einstein generated the paper which introduce the theory to the scientific world, Bodanis goes on to break down the equation and discuss each of its parts separately. What do they mean, and how do they interact with each other? The reader is then led on a quick trip through history with regards to how the scientific community used the theory-the race to be the first to build “The Bomb” during World War II. Finally, the author discusses the theory in our universe. Those not interested in a brain drain of a read would still likely read the Epilogue, which discusses what else Einstein did, and the interesting appendix, which gives closure regarding the other key participants.

Of particular interest with regards to the structure of the book are the notes. If you would like to know more details (and are not afraid of either the odd equation or in depth descriptions), Bodanis suggests that you read the notes, where he has taken things a bit further. It is here that I have a bone to pick. The format that was chosen was that of endnotes, as opposed to footnotes. When endnotes are used, there is absolutely no indication within the text that there is a back of the book furtherance of the topic-two members of our book club did not even realize they were there and thus missed the opportunity to add to their reading experience. For those readers that do choose to read the endnotes concurrent with the front half of the book, you are left constantly flipping between the text and the notes to see if you have reached the next note (they are listed by page number). This is extremely disruptive to the flow of a book which requires some level of concentration to read and annoyed me to no end. Footnotes within the text would have been grand. As a side note, a member of our group tried to read the e-reader version. Footnotes would have enabled her to flip from text to notes with ease. As it was, she quickly gave up on trying to maneuver between the two.

The final section, a guide to further reading, is one of the finest source guides I have ever seen. Books are divided into categories and are each given a paragraph of explanation designed to help the reader ascertain if they are a good fit for their reading list.

Bodanis tops off his two leveled read with one final feat-he has a website to which he directs the serious student for further, more in depth, study. Whether you are interested in a basic explanation of a complicated theory, have a fascination with physics and would like to know more, or would like to go beyond your high school physics knowledge, this book is likely to fit your need. ( )
1 vote careburpee | May 20, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bodanis, Davidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lindgren, NilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A while ago I was reading an interview with the actress Cameron Diaz in a movie magazine.
Bern Patent Office, 1905
13 April 1901
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0425181642, Paperback)

E=mc2. Just about everyone has at least heard of Albert Einstein's formulation of 1905, which came into the world as something of an afterthought. But far fewer can explain his insightful linkage of energy to mass. David Bodanis offers an easily grasped gloss on the equation. Mass, he writes, "is simply the ultimate type of condensed or concentrated energy," whereas energy "is what billows out as an alternate form of mass under the right circumstances."

Just what those circumstances are occupies much of Bodanis's book, which pays homage to Einstein and, just as important, to predecessors such as Maxwell, Faraday, and Lavoisier, who are not as well known as Einstein today. Balancing writerly energy and scholarly weight, Bodanis offers a primer in modern physics and cosmology, explaining that the universe today is an expression of mass that will, in some vastly distant future, one day slide back to the energy side of the equation, replacing the "dominion of matter" with "a great stillness"--a vision that is at once lovely and profoundly frightening.

Without sliding into easy psychobiography, Bodanis explores other circumstances as well; namely, Einstein's background and character, which combined with a sterling intelligence to afford him an idiosyncratic view of the way things work--a view that would change the world. --Gregory McNamee

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:00 -0400)

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Examines the science and scientists who provided the backdrop to Einstein's seminal 1905 discovery and offers a definitive explanation of the equation from a mathematical, historical, and scientific perspective.

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