This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George…

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (original 2008; edition 2008)

by George Johnson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3971740,137 (3.39)26
Title:The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
Authors:George Johnson
Info:Knopf (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 208 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson (2008)



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 26 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
In the author's preamble to The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, I was slightly alarmed to see Cormac McCarthy thanked for his help composing the manuscript of this scientific history. Presumably this is a different Cormac McCarthy, but one does wonder.

JOHNSON: Now then, Cormac, where were we. Chapter Eight; new paragraph. Quote: ‘Edward Morley, a chemist at neighboring Western Reserve University, was as meticulous a scientist as Michelson. The two men agreed that it would be pointless to make another attempt to detect the Earth's absolute motion unless they could first confirm Fresnel's hypothesis – that the celestial backdrop is fixed in space with only pinches of aether dragged along by transparent objects.’ Just read that back for me, would you?

MCCARTHY: The sky was clear and Michelson's heart was clear and only in the far west the clarity was broken where the last cloudbank bled over the land like a jugged hare; and yet all was in motion, heart, blood and sky, spiraling forever into the measureless void and haling the ether along with it like the caul over a miscarried infant's soft and innocent head. Innocent? Nay – rife with original sin.
Michelson spat on the ground, and the parched land accepted his meager gift.
—Reckon Fresnel might have been on to something after all, Morley said, studying the westering sun.

JOHNSON: Perhaps we should take a break.

(Edit – as has been pointed out to me, it was in fact almost certainly the Cormac McCarthy. See e.g. here.)

Distracting Acknowledgements aside, this is an engaging, if slight, description of ten key experiments from across the sciences: Harvey's demonstration that blood circulates through the body, Newton's refraction of light, Michelson-Morley, Pavlov's dogs, and so on. As with any such selection, there are some surprising omissions (no double-slit experiment?), but, more fundamentally, and although the writing is decent, the chapters are a little too short and they fail to generate the sort of excitement that following these efforts should have generated.

The chapters also function as mini-biographies of the scientists involved, and in part this book is a love-letter to the ‘great men’ (they're all men) who have driven science forward through insight combined with exhaustive slog. One of the things we're left wondering at the end is whether this kind of single moving spirit may be anachronistic now: Johnson notes that there were 439 names on the paper announcing the discovery of the top quark. So lots more beautiful experiments to come, we can be sure – but most of them are likely to have been designed by committee. ( )
  Widsith | Dec 8, 2014 |
The table of contents was not promising. The book promises the ten "most" beautiful experiments but doesn't have Rutherford discovering the nucleus? But it does have Galvani chopping up frogs to find out if they transmit electricity.

But as I read, I came to appreciate Johnson's idiosyncratic selections. Rather than reading the Nth treatment of classic experiments, he presents some very interesting and well-told vignettes. Especially of Galvani and the frogs. And Pavlov, who turns out to have loved his dogs.

Still, some of the vignettes, like Harvey Lavosier, were less engaging. And at some point, and this is a comment about the entire science history genre, you just do not want to spend the amount of effort the books requires to try to understand theories of two fluids pumped by the heart, phlogiston, and caloric just to learn how they were discovered to be wrong.

A final thought: someone should write a book on ten experiments that failed -- and discovered something much more important as a result. Michelson and Morley would be in it, not sure the other nine, which is why someone should write it. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
The writing was fairly technical, so I'm not sure if this book will work for the popular audience Johnson seems to want. Johnson didn't give much context or analysis about the implications of these experiments, which I would have found more enlightening than precise descriptions of exactly how the experiments were carried out. His choices are also very heavy on physics and experimentation on animals, neither of which are particular favorites of mine. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
bookshelves: gr-library, published-2008, under-500-ratings, tbr-busting-2014, sciences, nonfiction, e-book, winter-20132014, essays, history, skim-through
Recommended for: GR Library Users
Read from January 08 to 09, 2014

** spoiler alert ** 1. Galileo: The Way Things Really Move

The music

2. William Harvey: Mysteries of the Heart

The music

The Anatomy Theatre of Fabricius

3. Isaac Newton: What a Color Is

The Rainbow Music

An Allegorical Monument to Sir Isaac Newton by Pittoni Giambattista

4. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier: The Farmer’s Daughter

The Music

Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze (1758-1836)

5. Luigi Galvani: Animal Electricity

The music

6. Michael Faraday: Something Deeply Hidden

The Music

7. James Joule: How the World Works

The music

8. A. A. Michelson: Lost in Space

The music>

9. Ivan Pavlov: Measuring the Immeasurable

The music

10. Robert Millikan: In the Borderland

The music

At 141 pages this is a sweet little book that is both pop-hist and primer for young enquiring minds but totally irrelevant for someone sitting down for an engrossing read.

Flick through if you get a moment, there are some delightful tidbits.


aNobii ( )
  mimal | Jan 9, 2014 |
I remember sitting through the many science classes in high school -- biology, chemistry, physics, and so on -- listening to the teachers lecture on different theories and then having us put them to use. Interesting stuff, but we were working with already-proven theories: how many calories in such and such food, how does a prism bend light, a2 + b2 = c2. Honestly, back then I just wanted to get through the classes, so I just accepted the theories and moved on.

Now that I'm older, my mind wants to know why this theory is correct, how did it come about. So when I randomly pulled George Johnson's book "The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments" off a bookstore shelf, I was intrigued. And how can you not when the description in the dust jacket reads: "...and [Sir Isaac] Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his eye to learn how light causes vibrations in the retina."? (That hooked the horror fiend in me.)

Johnson takes a chronological approach to the experiments, beginning with Galileo's experiments with accurately measuring the speed at objects move, Newton's use of prisms and the aforementioned needle to determine what makes color, and onward through Faraday's making the connection between magnetism and electricity and Millikan's work discovering the electron. But, instead of just stating the theory, Johnson provides the back stories, what sparked the scientists to push the envelope farther, what obstacles they had to overcome, how the mindsets at their points in history affected their experiments. And that's the fascinating part, walking with each scientist step by step through the trials, successes and failures to reach some new insight into how the world works.

On a few occasions, I did find myself re-reading sections to make sure I understood what was going on. I'm not a scientist so certain facts were glossed over as if I should have known them, such as the speed of light in A.A. Michelson's study of the velocity of the Earth. In spite of that, "The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments" is fascinating and well worth a read. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Aug 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Most scientific aesthetes gaze fondly upon equations or arrangements of facts. A few, like the science writer George Johnson, also see beauty in the act of research. Johnson’s new book, “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments,” is an appealing account of important scientific discoveries to which a variation of Keats applies: occasionally, beauty yields truth.
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
When Albert Einstein was an old man and sat down to write a short volume of autobiographical notes - "something like my own obituary" - he remembered the day his father showed him a compass. Turning it this way and that, the boy watched in wonder as the needle pointed insistently north. "I can still remember - or at least believe I can remember - that this experience made a deep and lasting impression upon me," Einstein wrote. "Something deeply hidden had to behind things."
First words
On a clear winter morning several years ago, I drove up a hill to St. John's College to play with electrons.
When you throw a rock, catch a ball, or jump just hard enough to clear a hurdle, the older, unconscious part of the brain, the cerebellum, reveals an effortless grasp of the fundamental laws of motion.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Des mathématiques à la physique en passant par la biologie , les dix plus belles expériences montrent combien la science est la plus formidable des aventures humaines .
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140003423X, Paperback)

A dazzling, irresistible collection of the ten most ground-breaking and beautiful experiments in scientific history.

With the attention to detail of a historian and the story-telling ability of a novelist, New York Times science writer George Johnson celebrates these groundbreaking experiments and re-creates a time when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces and scientists were in awe of light, electricity, and the human body. Here, we see Galileo staring down gravity, Newton breaking apart light, and Pavlov studying his now famous dogs. This is science in its most creative, hands-on form, when ingenuity of the mind is the most useful tool in the lab and the rewards of a well-considered experiment are on elegant display.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:13 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science--moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply. Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were dazzled by light, by electricity, and by the beating of the hearts they laid bare on the dissecting table. For all of them, diligence was rewarded. In an instant, confusion was swept aside and something new about nature leaped into view. In bringing us these stories, Johnson restores some of the romance to science, reminding us of the existential excitement of a single soul staring down the unknown.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.39)
1 1
2 8
2.5 1
3 19
3.5 8
4 21
5 5

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 134,090,912 books! | Top bar: Always visible