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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

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A discussion of the impact and nature of Einstein's work structured like a biography of the equation, E = mc^2. A lively narrative, not terribly technical. The book covers Einstein's original addendum to a paper (the birth), and each element in the equation, its origin, and its meaning at the time Einstein took it up.
Each part has a bit of a biography associated with it, as, E (Michael Farraday), m (Antoine Lavoisier), c (Ole Roemer), ^2 (Emilie du Chatelet). The equation is first ignored, eventually seized upon, and finally used in many ways. An epilogue on general relativity, the descendants.

Besides those mentioned above, many people trip through these pages. Werner Heisenberg (working on a bomb for Germany), Cecilia Payne (conjecturing that the sun is not so much made of iron as of hydrogen), Arthur Eddington (observing the bending of starlight instead of being incarcerated as a conscientous objector), Enrico Fermi, Lise Meitner (envisaging nuclear fission), James Chadwick (discovering the neutron), Ernest Rutherford (many things), Fred Hoyle, Subramanyan Chandraseckhar (his limit).

Succint and lively, but occasionally a bit sloppy. I listened to this on audio, but would probably be prepared to read the book. ( )
  themulhern | Jul 5, 2015 |
Many of my students will have heard about this small equation, but I'm not sure if they will understand its gravity. I hope to expound their knowledge on the importance of these five symbols in a line.
  ogroft | Apr 14, 2015 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bodanis, Davidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lindgren, NilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:04 -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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