Skip to main content

Einstein’s Refrigerator [A Matter of Degrees] – Gino Segre *****

Not to be confused with Steve Silverman’s book of the same name (at least, the same name as the UK version), this is an enjoyable meander through much of science using the linking theme of temperature, of heat and of cold.
The only slight concern about this approach is that, while Segre is excellent on his linking theme, some of the little sidelines are too short to give a full picture. For example, when exploring the measurement of temperature he puts the development of the thermometer alongside the invention of the telescope and the microscope. This is handed to Lippershey and his contemporaries, but ignores the near certain earilier development of a hybrid reflector by the Elizabethan Digges family. Similarly, Fred Hoyle gets no mention as 20th century champion of life from space.
But this concern aside (and in the end these side-references are only the garnish, not the main dish), it’s a lovely book. Starting with body heat and its implications, humanities attempts to measure temperature (a relatively modern concept), heat and cold on the earth and in the universe, the remarkable science of the extremes of temperature and much more.
All this is done in a chatty, informal way, yet without talking down to the reader. Segre is that rare find, a scientist who can make science accessible. He calls science his ‘family business’ – one of his uncles was a Nobel laureate – and it’s a business he clearly delights in.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Cosmology for the Curious - Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin ***

In the recently published The Little Book of Black Holes we saw what I thought was pretty much impossible - a good, next level, general audience science title, spanning the gap between a typical popular science book and an introductory textbook, but very much in the style of popular science. Cosmology for the Curious does something similar, but coming from the other direction. This is an introductory textbook, intended for first year physics students, with familiar textbook features like questions to answer at the end of each chapter. Yet by incorporating some history and context, plus taking a more relaxed style in the writing, it's certainly more approachable than a typical textbook.

The first main section, The Big Bang and the Observable Universe not only covers basic big bang cosmology but fills in the basics of special and general relativity, Hubble's law, dark matter, dark energy and more. We then move onto the more speculative (this is cosmology, after all) aspects, brin…

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson *****

When I reviewed James Binney’s Astrophysics: A Very Short Introduction earlier this year, I observed that the very word ‘astrophysics’ in a book’s title is liable to deter many readers from buying it. As a former astrophysicist myself, I’ve never really understood why it’s considered such a scary word, but that’s the way it is. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn, from Wikipedia, that this new book by Neil deGrasse Tyson ‘topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list for four weeks in the middle of 2017’.

Like James Binney, Tyson is a professional astrophysicist with a string of research papers to his name – but he’s also one of America’s top science popularisers, and that’s the hat he’s wearing in this book. While Binney addresses an already-physics-literate audience, Tyson sets his sights on a much wider readership. It’s actually very brave – and honest – of him to give physics such prominent billing; the book could easily have been given a more reader-friendly title such …

Once upon and Algorithm - Martin Erwig ***

I've been itching to start reading this book for some time, as the premise was so intriguing - to inform the reader about computer science and algorithms using stories as analogies to understand the process.

This is exactly what Martin Erwig does, starting (as the cover suggests) with Hansel and Gretel, and then bringing in Sherlock Holmes (and particularly The Hound of the Baskervilles), Indiana Jones, the song 'Over the Rainbow' (more on that in a moment), Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and Harry Potter.

The idea is to show how some aspect of the story - in the case of Hansel and Gretel, laying a trail of stones/breadcrumbs, then attempting to follow them home - can be seen as a kind of algorithm or computation and gradually adding in computing standards, such as searching, queues and lists, loops, recursion and more.

This really would have been a brilliant book if Erwig had got himself a co-author who knew how to write for the public, but sadly the style is mostly heavy…