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Science Books

July 13, 2006

Gravity's Arc: The Story of Gravity from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond
David Darling (2006)
ISBN: 0471719897

Great minds have been studying gravity for millennia, but what if everything that we think we know about it is wrong? Freelance science writer David Darling, who holds a PhD in astronomy, considers the case for and against current gravitational theory, and argues that we may be standing on the verge of a gravity revolution. Darling points out that in light of inexplicable phenomena, such as the Pioneer anomaly and the peculiar behavior of pendulums during solar eclipses, scientists are almost certainly missing some vital aspect to do with gravity. Darling looks deeply into the past to try and discern some clue as to where science took a wrong turn, only to discover that the science of gravity has followed a tortuous path throughout history. Aristotle first led science down a blind alley, and his teachings on gravity remained a part of Christian dogma that we didn't emerge from for many long years. Since then, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton and Einstein have gradually teased out the nature of gravity, but despite the efforts of these brilliant minds, certain aspects of gravity remain a mystery. The mystery deepens as Darling examines contemporary physics, and the difficult questions that scientists now posit. If we assume gravity to be a force, where does it come from? How do massive objects generate gravity? If gravity comes in the form of waves, how can scientists detect them? To answer these questions, Darling finds that science has had to go back to basics and re-ask fundamental questions that we assume have already been answered; and you can't get more basic than "what is gravity?" Surely such questions must be clearly answered before physicists can ever hope to develop models such as a theory of everything. Perhaps a better understanding of "dark energy," gravity's evil twin, will yield answers that will not only explain gravity, but also lead to breakthroughs in technology like interstellar space travel, or the knowledge necessary to manipulate all aspects of space and time. Gravity's Arc is a fascinating book that will leave you staring out the window in deep contemplation for hours on end.

How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines
John H. Lienhard (2006)
ISBN: 019530599X

While it has become increasingly popular for scientists and science commentators to discuss humanity's accent toward the "singularity" and all other manner of "post-human" futures, one author has taken timeout to reflect upon how our current technologies came to be. John Lienhard, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston and host of public radio's The Engines of Our Ingenuity, argues that every technological innovation is one link in a long chain of human thought and ingenuity, and that no single inventor of a specific technology can truly be identified. Using original arguments based on historical and biographical records, Lienhard explores with great depth and style the collaborative development of technologies to which we now attribute a sole inventor. Light bulbs, airplanes or steam engines are not inventions in their own right, says Lienhard, but are actually the end result of a myriad of invention. In reality, inventions are conceived from the minds of thousands of individuals, whose ideas are wrought from the culture and society in which they live. In later chapters, Lienhard explains the significance of Gutenburg's printing press, its origins, and the massive uptake of knowledge that followed in the wake of mass-produced books. In addition, Lienhard shows how public libraries, universities and museums represent the knowledge bases of accumulated ideas that continue to contribute to education and technological development. As with the shared desire to traverse great distances quickly, leading to the development of planes, trains and automobiles, Lienhard argues that education is no less of an "invention" than the inventions borne of a need for speed.

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