Appealing accounts of scientific breakthroughs by the veteran popularizer.
Aiming to describe discoveries that have played critical roles in our daily lives, Clegg pays little attention to black holes, neutrinos, dark matter, and other less-relevant astrophysical subjects. In the first of 10 dated chapters, the author looks at Isaac Newton, who considered himself a mathematician and whose masterpiece, Principia (1687), is a turgid, three-volume Latin tome packed with geometry and calculus. Though admittedly “difficult to read,” the book produced the foundational ideas of modern science, not only universal gravitation, but the current—as opposed to ancient and incorrect—concepts of motion, inertia, force, and mass. Modern science moved slowly until the 19th century, so Clegg’s second breakthrough occurred on Nov. 24, 1831, when Michael Faraday presented his paper reporting that a moving magnet produces a current in a nearby wire, called electrical induction, which “made the electrical motor and generator practical. In truth, Elon Musk should have called his car company Faraday, not Tesla.” No-brainers that follow include Marie Curie’s 1898 announcement of her discovery of radium and, seven years later, when Albert Einstein wrote that energy was simply matter in another form. Computer buffs might remember that John Bardeen and Walter Brattain demonstrated the first working transistor in 1947, but the names and dates behind many landmarks in technology are merely answers to trivia questions. Although Clegg does not dumb down his subjects, he understands that more than a few pages explaining the BCS theory of superconductivity or the mechanics of the internet’s Hypertext Transfer Protocol would turn off many readers. Consequently, he fills his chapters with autobiographical details, diverting scientific anecdotes, and other historical events that occurred during his chosen years. It’s padding, but few readers—especially the sizable number who have enjoyed Clegg’s many previous books—will complain.
A painless education on great milestones in physics.