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The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert…
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The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet,… (original 2015; udgave 2015)

af Thomas Levenson (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
19915102,282 (3.74)6
"The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed."--Amazon.com.
Medlem:Cora-R
Titel:The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe
Forfattere:Thomas Levenson (Forfatter)
Info:Random House (2015), 224 pages
Samlinger:Kindle, Dit bibliotek, Skal læses
Vurdering:
Nøgleord:Albert Einstein, astronomy, astrophysics, history, history of science, nonfiction, physics, science, space

Detaljer om værket

The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe af Thomas Levenson (2015)

  1. 00
    American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World af David Baron (themulhern)
    themulhern: These books intersect, "The Hunt for Vulcan" covers the eclipse expedition, and "American Eclipse" includes the siting of Vulcan during the eclipse by James Craig Watson.
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https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3388538.html

A nice little study of two very different parts of astronomical history: first, the mid-nineteenth century quest for the planet Vulcan, and then the story of Einstein's conceptualisation of General Relativity and the practical test during the eclipse of 1919, which confirmed it. I had touched on this issue during my MPhil research on Sir Robert Ball, so it was a nice return to a previous topic. Levenson gets very much into the context of the two different situation, particularly vivid on Le Verrier in Paris in the 1830s and Einstein's early career. I felt he didn't quite bridge the two - I'd have liked a bit more on the noted astronomer James Craig Watson who actually claimed to have seen Vulcan during the solar eclipse of 1878, and the book ends up being very firmly two different stories with a common topic of interest but which are otherwise not that closely related. But both stories are interesting. ( )
  nwhyte | Jun 9, 2020 |
Everyone has heard of Einstein; his name is synonymous with genius and his Theory of Relativity not only gave us a completely new branch of physics, it also solved the mystery of the missing planet ‘Vulcan’ that scientists and astronomers had been searching for. The story though begins much earlier.

In 1687 Isaac Newton published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica or Principia which described how particles attract using the force of gravity. This seminal book defined classical mechanics that allowed scientists to understand and even predict the movement of the planets around the sun. Noticing that there were anomalies in the orbit of Saturn, Urbain Le Verrier using the mathematics in the equations that Newton developed, managed to predict that there was a planet outside of Saturn. This discovery by Verrier and visual verification of the planet Neptune by Johann Gottfried Galle was a remarkable demonstration of celestial mechanics, and made their reputations in scientific discovery.

One thing that had puzzled astronomers for years was that there was an anomaly in the orbit of Mercury. Aiming to reproduce his success in the discovery of Neptune, Verrier worked through the calculations and claimed that there was a planet closer to the sun. People all over the world scoured the heavens looking for this planet, even claiming to see it at times.

But there was just one minor problem; it didn’t exist.

It took another fifty 50 years for the former assistant at the Swiss patent office to understand the errors in Newton’s work, and formulate his new simple theories that revolutionised our understanding of physics.

Levenson has drawn together all these fascinating characters into a story that is not only interesting to read, but reveals the way that we have come to understand our Solar System. Occasionally he drifts of into fairly complex science, but this is a great example of bringing alive a science story that most have forgotten, as you’d expect from the head of MIT’s Science Writing. Well worth reading, even for those who haven’t thought about physics since they left school. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
An excellent read. I really enjoyed the history and way it was presented on the world stage. It kind of surprised me to realize how recently so many of these events happened. ( )
  Jerry.Yoakum | Nov 10, 2019 |
True tales of strange science! ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Feb 24, 2019 |
"Remember, you are mortal."

Roman generals, when they came home to celebrate a Triumph (a parade to commemorate a major victory) were supposed to always have a slave accompanying them, whispering that message, lest the pomp of the ceremony go to their heads. It didn't always work, but it couldn't hurt.

It couldn't hurt Thomas Levenson to read that historical anecdote, either.

Don't get me wrong; this is a good book. It teaches a lot about the development of theoretical astronomy. It's usually clear, and it does a pretty good job of supplying scientific background without going overboard with it. The science does tend to come in rather large lumps, and as someone with training in physics, I sometimes wondered why Levenson picked those particular spots to get hard-science-ish. But I didn't think they interfered too much. And the saga of Vulcan is a good reminder that the progress of science is not always smooth, but that it usually manages to straighten itself out eventually.

But here's the problem: Albert Einstein was not God. He wasn't even a nice person. Levenson gets the science right. But he doesn't get Einstein right. For instance, when he explains the photoelectric effect and how Einstein solved it (p. 128ff.), he gives the very clear impression that Einstein invented quantum mechanics. This is, flatly, false. Max Planck had invented quantum mechanics five years before as a sort of a theoretical construct to solve a particular problem with electromagnetic radiation. Planck didn't really believe in it, but he published. Einstein, in 1905, saw that a quantum explanation would also explain the photoelectric effect -- and so converted Planck's funny idea from a special case into a general-purpose tool. Einstein made quantum mechanics big -- but he didn't invent it. Indeed, as he got older, he actually refused to accept the way the field was developing.

Or consider page 179: "general relativity has survived every challenge since." Yes it has -- sort of. On a large scale, it has always worked. But at a quantum scale -- no. One of the holy grails of physics is relativistic quantum mechanics. We don't have it; general relativity doesn't work at the quantum level. In some way, which we don't understand, general relativity must be an approximation to the theory of everything in just the same way that Newtonian gravity was an approximation to Einstein's relativistic gravity.

Or take his relationship with his first wife Mileva Marić. On p. 159 Levenson claims that Einstein "cried" when he split up with Marić. He conveniently leaves out the facts that Einstein got her pregnant out of wedlock, delayed the marriage, treated her as property, ordered her to leave him alone, kicked her out, and then tried not to pay spousal support. Some scholars think he beat her. Levinson is perfectly happy to point out that Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier (the usual spelling, although Levinson writes it Le Verrier), the other physicist to play a big role in this book, was a jerk. So why won't he tell us that Einstein was? As best I can tell, only because Einstein was Einsten. Levenson could, of course, have left out all the personal details -- a history of science doesn't have to be about people. But if he's going to talk about the people, he owes it to his readers to describe the people as they actually were.

I knocked off a full star for that defect. If you want a history of Vulcan, this is a good book -- much clearer than anything else I've read on the subject. But despite the subtitle about Albert Einstein, this is not a book about Einstein. It's about a false idol which Levenson confuses with Einstein.

Einstein, after all, was mortal. ( )
  waltzmn | Aug 27, 2017 |
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November 18, 1915, Berlin.
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"The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed."--Amazon.com.

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