E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online
E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online__left
E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online__right

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Product Description

Already climbing the bestseller lists-and garnering rave reviews—this "little masterpiece" sheds brilliant light on the equation that changed the world.

Bodanis begins by devoting chapters to each of the equation''s letters and symbols, introducing the science and scientists forming the backdrop to Einstein''s discovery—from Ole Roemer''s revelation that the speed of light could be measured to Michael Faraday''s pioneering work on energy fields. Having demystified the equation, Bodanis explains its science and brings it to life historically, making clear the astonishing array of discoveries and consequences it made possible. It would prove to be a beacon throughout the twentieth century, important to Ernest Rutherford, who discovered the structure of the atom, Enrico Fermi, who probed the nucleus, and Lise Meitner, who finally understood how atoms could be split wide open. And it has come to inform our daily lives, governing everything from the atomic bomb to a television''s cathode-ray tube to the carbon dating of prehistoric paintings.

Review

"This is not a physics book. It is a history of where the equation [E=mc2] came from and how it has changed the world. After a short chapter on the equation''s birth, Bodanis presents its five symbolic ancestors in sequence, each with its own chapter and each with rich human stories of achievement and failure, encouragement and duplicity, love and rivalry, politics and revenge. Readers meet not only famous scientists at their best and worst but also such famous and infamous characters as Voltaire and Marat...Bodanis includes detailed, lively and fascinating back matter...His acknowledgements end, ''I loved writing this book.'' It shows." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer"E=mc2, focusing on the 1905 theory of special relativity, is just what its subtitle says it is: a biography of the world''s most famous equation, and it succeeds beautifully. For the first time, I really feel that I understand the meaning and implications of that equation, as Bodanis takes us through each symbol separately, including the = sign...there is a great ''aha!'' awaiting the lay reader." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch"''The equation that changed everything'' is familiar to even the most physics-challenged, but it remains a fuzzy abstraction to most. Science writer Bodanis makes it a lot more clear." —Discover"Excellent...With wit and style, he explains every factor in the world''s most famous and least understood equation....Every page is rich with surprising anecdotes about everything from Einstein''s youth to the behind-the-scenes workings of the Roosevelt administration. Here''s a prediction: E=mc2 is one of those odd, original, and handsomely written books that will prove more popular than even its publisher suspects." —Nashville Scene"You''ll learn more in these 300 pages about folks like Faraday, Lavoisier, Davy and Rutherford than you will in many a science course...a clearly written, astonishingly understandable book that celebrates human achievement and provides some idea of the underlying scientific orderliness and logic that guides the stars and rules the universe." —Parade"Bodanis truly has a gift for bringing his subject matter to life." —Library Journal [starred review]"Entertaining...With anecdotes and illustrations, Bodanis effectively opens up E=mc2 to the widest audience." —Booklist"Accessible...he seeks, and deserves, many readers who know no physics. They''ll learn a handful-more important, they''ll enjoy it, and pick up a load of biographical and cultural curios along the way." —Publishers Weekly

About the Author

David Bodanis studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and in 1988 became a Senior Associate Member of St. Anthony''s College in Oxford, England. From 1991-97, he lectured at the University of Oxford, designing the university''s main survey of social science methods. Author of several books, he is an ideas consultant to corporations and organizations worldwide. A native of Chicago, he lives in London with his family.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Part 1, Birth

13 April 1901

Professor Wilhelm Ostwald
University of Leipzig
Leipzig, Germany

Esteemed Herr Professor!

Please forgive a father who is so bold as to turn to you, esteemed Herr Professor, in the interest of his son.

I shall start by telling you that my son Albert is 22 years old, that . . . he feels profoundly unhappy with his present lack of position, and his idea that he has gone off the tracks with his career & is now out of touch gets more and more entrenched each day. In addition, he is oppressed by the thought that he is a burden on us, people of modest means. . . .

I have taken the liberty of turning [to you] with the humble request to . . . write him, if possible, a few words of encouragement, so that he might recover his joy in living and working.

If, in addition, you could secure him an Assistant''s position for now or the next autumn, my gratitude would know no bounds. . . .

I am also taking the liberty of mentioning that my son does not know anything about my unusual step.

I remain, highly esteemed Herr Professor,
your devoted
Hermann Einstein

No answer from Professor Ostwald was ever received.

The world of 1905 seems distant to us now, but there were many similarities to life today. European newspapers complained that there were too many American tourists, while Americans were complaining that there were too many immigrants. The older generation everywhere complained that the young were disrespectful, while politicians in Europe and America worried about the disturbing turbulence in Russia. There were newfangled "aerobics" classes; there was a trend-setting vegetarian society, and calls for sexual freedom (which were rebuffed by traditionalists standing for family values), and much else.
The year 1905 was also when Einstein wrote a series of papers that changed our view of the universe forever. On the surface, he seemed to have been leading a pleasant, quiet life until then. He had often been interested in physics puzzles as a child, and was now a recent university graduate, easygoing enough to have many friends. He had married a bright fellow student, Mileva, and was earning enough money from a civil service job in the patent office to spend his evenings and Sundays in pub visits, or long walks-above all, he had a great deal of time to think.

Although his father''s letter hadn''t succeeded, a friend of Einstein''s from the university, Marcel Grossman, had pulled the right strings to get Einstein the patent job in 1902. Grossman''s help was necessary not so much because Einstein''s final university grades were unusually low-through cramming with the ever-useful Grossman''s notes, Einstein had just managed to reach a 4.91 average out of a possible 6, which was almost average-but because one professor, furious at Einstein for telling jokes and cutting classes, had spitefully written unacceptable references. Teachers over the years had been irritated by his lack of obedience, most notably Einstein''s high school Greek grammar teacher, Joseph Degenhart, the one who has achieved immortality in the history books through insisting that "nothing would ever become of you." Later, when told it would be best if he left the school, Degenhart had explained, "Your presence in the class destroys the respect of the students."

Outwardly Einstein appeared confident, and would joke with his friends about the way everyone in authority seemed to enjoy putting him down. The year before, in 1904, he had applied for a promotion from patent clerk third class to patent clerk second class. His supervisor, Dr. Haller, had rejected him, writing in an assessment that although Einstein had "displayed some quite good achievements," he would still have to wait "until he has become fully familiar with mechanical engineering."

In reality, though, the lack of success was becoming serious. Einstein and his wife had given away their first child, a daughter born before they were married, and were now trying to raise the second on a patent clerk''s salary. Einstein was twenty-six. He couldn''t even afford the money for part-time help to let his wife go back to her studies. Was he really as wise as his adoring younger sister, Maja, had told him?

He managed to get a few physics articles published, but they weren''t especially impressive. He was always aiming for grand linkages-his very first paper, published back in 1901, had tried to show that the forces controlling the way liquid rises up in a drinking straw were similar, fundamentally, to Newton''s laws of gravitation. But he could not quite manage to get these great linkages to work, and he got almost no response from other physicists. He wrote to his sister, wondering if he''d ever make it.

Even the hours he had to keep at the patent office worked against him. By the time he got off for the day, the one science library in Bern was usually closed. How would he have a chance if he couldn''t even stay up to date with the latest findings? When he did have a few free moments during the day, he would scribble on sheets he kept in one drawer of his desk-which he jokingly called his department of theoretical physics. But Haller kept a strict eye on him, and the drawer stayed closed most of the time. Einstein was slipping behind, measurably, compared to the friends he''d made at the university. He talked with his wife about quitting Bern and trying to find a job teaching high school. But even that wasn''t any guarantee: he had tried it before, only four years earlier, but never managed to get a permanent post.

And then, on what Einstein later remembered as a beautiful day in the spring of 1905, he met his best friend, Michele Besso ("I like him a great deal," Einstein wrote, "because of his sharp mind and his simplicity"), for one of their long strolls on the outskirts of the city. Often they just gossiped about life at the patent office, and music, but today Einstein was uneasy. In the past few months a great deal of what he''d been thinking about had started coming together, but there was still something Einstein felt he was very near to understanding but couldn''t quite see. That night Einstein still couldn''t quite grasp it, but the next day he suddenly woke up, feeling "the greatest excitement."

It took just five or six weeks to write up a first draft of the article, filling thirty-some pages. It was the start of his theory of relativity. He sent the article to Annalen der Physik to be published, but a few weeks later, he realized that he had left something out. A three-page supplement was soon delivered to the same physics journal. He admitted to another friend that he was a little unsure how accurate the supplement was: "The idea is amusing and enticing, but whether the Lord is laughing at it and has played a trick on me-that I cannot know." But in the text itself he began, confidently: "The results of an electrodynamic investigation recently published by me in this journal lead to a very interesting conclusion, which will be derived here." And then, four paragraphs from the end of this supplement, he wrote it out.

E=mc2 had arrived in the world.

—Reprinted from E=mc2, A Biography of the World''s Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2000, David Bodanis. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

 

 

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4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
343 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Peter A
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Good but could be better
Reviewed in the United States on November 14, 2016
The book is good and the enthusiasm of the author is palpable. However, i think it would have benefitted from more in-depth science, less time spent on the cast of characters that developed the atomic bomb in favor of discussions about the science involved, and a more... See more
The book is good and the enthusiasm of the author is palpable. However, i think it would have benefitted from more in-depth science, less time spent on the cast of characters that developed the atomic bomb in favor of discussions about the science involved, and a more sophisticated use of italics. I don''t know if it''s just the Kindle edition that''s like this, but many times the italics seem either pointless or improperly used. It actually gets in the way of reading the sentence. Easy read on the whole, and if you knew nothing about the equation before, you''ll have learned something by the end.
6 people found this helpful
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Hank92123
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Best Explanation of E=mc2
Reviewed in the United States on August 3, 2019
The book is an excellent explanation of how Einstein derived the formula, how such a simple formula can possibly describe the energy stored in matter, and, of particular interest to me, why the speed of light is part of the formula. The book is so good that I bought the... See more
The book is an excellent explanation of how Einstein derived the formula, how such a simple formula can possibly describe the energy stored in matter, and, of particular interest to me, why the speed of light is part of the formula. The book is so good that I bought the audio book to listen to on long road trips.
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Ravi Madhavan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
E=Excellent
Reviewed in the United States on September 29, 2008
Amazing story of the discovery and then application of the most powerful equation the world has known. Beautifully written by David Bodanis the book provides very good scientific understanding to the educated layman but also presents in a way that makes it difficult to put... See more
Amazing story of the discovery and then application of the most powerful equation the world has known. Beautifully written by David Bodanis the book provides very good scientific understanding to the educated layman but also presents in a way that makes it difficult to put down. The chapter on the microsecond by microsecond events when the first atomic bomb were dropped are truly frightening. The chapter on Lise Meitner and her nephew on holiday in Sweeden discovering nuclear fission was a true detective story. The final chapter (Where are they now) gave some happy and sad stories to the many characters of the book. Some who did so much but may not have received credit due to their unconventional education (Faraday), gender (Payne, Meitner) or skin color (Chandrasekhar) begin to get their deserved credit. Finally, the man at the center of it all who unwillingly became a popular icon spent much of his later years trying to live up to his earlier scientific fame from the special and general theories of relativity. The book has so much more in it but I believe I will need to read it again as it contains so much!
2 people found this helpful
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Joseph D. Seckelman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Top Noch Book!
Reviewed in the United States on December 12, 2000
This is the first book I have ever read that explains the equation E=MC2 without giving a mathematical explanation, meaning literally anyone can understand it completely. The book is interesting and provides a superb understanding of what the true significance of that... See more
This is the first book I have ever read that explains the equation E=MC2 without giving a mathematical explanation, meaning literally anyone can understand it completely. The book is interesting and provides a superb understanding of what the true significance of that powerful equation is and the supreme precience, intelligence and independence of Einstein when he thought of it in 1905.
My only critical comments about the book are on page 161 where he said of President Truman''s advisor Jimmy Byrnes: "It was Byrnes who ensured that the clause protecting the emperor (Hirohito of Japan) which might mollify Japanese opponents of a settlement-was taken out." There is a book by Herbert P. Bix, HIROHITO AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN and Mr. Bodanis'' reference to Jimmy Byrnes is never mentioned. That book is probably one of the best researched books ever written. Said another way, Mr. Bodanis states the two nuclear bombs droped on Japan during the final days of the Second World War should never have been droped and it was Byrnes'' fault for refusing to mollify the Japanese that they were dropped. Read HIROHITO AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN it was far more complicated than Mr. Bodanis'' canned liberal view.
Having said that, however, I literally could not put this book down. I wanted to find out as much as I could in about the equation and its development. The book is very easy and quick to read even though one might think a book about an equation could be otherwise.
If you want to really understand what our universe is about and how all matter comes into being, read this book. Even those of you that have zero-point-zero understanding of science and math (me), this book has the uncanny ability to describe everything with extreme clarity. I wish Mr. Bodanis would write a similar book about Quantum Mechanics!!
17 people found this helpful
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R. Birk
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I get it! The speed of light IS relevant!
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2010
I can''t begin to describe how interesting this book is. I started out mainly wanting to know what the speed of light has to do with anything, and Bodanis takes us back to the beginning, describing not only the relevance of the speed of light, but also the earliest... See more
I can''t begin to describe how interesting this book is. I started out mainly wanting to know what the speed of light has to do with anything, and Bodanis takes us back to the beginning, describing not only the relevance of the speed of light, but also the earliest discoveries involving energy, the equals sign, and mass. Bodanis''s writing style is very easy and engaging. If I have one complaint, it''s that I would have preferred a chronological treatment of energy, mass, and the speed of light, not a treatment in that order. Still, the book is completely understandable and is chockfull of fascinating history, such as the importance of Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and Lise Meitner. It''s probably also the best brief history of the Manhattan Project. At a little over 200 pages, this book is a quick read, but the reader comes away with lots of historical and scientific knowledge. I''m definitely going to have to read more David Bodanis publications!
4 people found this helpful
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Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Read it! And encourage your children to read it too.
Reviewed in the United States on March 21, 2016
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in just about anything. The research and discovery leading up to Einstein''s theory during the preceding centuries will be amazed at how what they learn about earlier "thinkers" in science. What is energy?... See more
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in just about anything. The research and discovery leading up to Einstein''s theory during the preceding centuries will be amazed at how what they learn about earlier "thinkers" in science. What is energy? What is mass? all things we have learned, but not always seen as unified. And why is the "speed" of light represented with "C"? Read it and find out. and remember C isn''t speed, it is distance light travels a year.

David Bodanis is a gifted writer and scientist.
2 people found this helpful
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Alaturka
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fluffy but not filling
Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2003
It is lightly written and easy to read but the title was a little misleading. While it was deeply appreciated not to be presented another cartoon depicting a white and bushy-haired gentleman situated upside down in a coordinate system, the folksy style, a little forced,... See more
It is lightly written and easy to read but the title was a little misleading. While it was deeply appreciated not to be presented another cartoon depicting a white and bushy-haired gentleman situated upside down in a coordinate system, the folksy style, a little forced, was not that endearing. Bodanis is obviously very knowledgeable about the topic and especailly its history. Still he does not come accross as a good teacher.
It was misleading because he mostly describes the consequences of mass-energy equivalence rather than the biogrophy of the specific equation. The book is full of historical tid-bits that are so much better treated in many other places. It is not as if the characters and topics are that well connected either, as he misses more important events and names altogether.
Given his deep knowledge of history, his description of Heisenberg''s activities was more than just dissapointing. He completely misrepresents the fact that there was hardly a German Bomb project to speak of. It mostly existed in the paranoid minds of numerous European scientists, who had the misfortune of witnessing Nazi horrors first hand. They also had a healthy respect for Heisenber''s genius. Heisenberg got some support for mostly scientific experiments, and this was mostly for the purpose of energy generation which Germany needed desperately. It never went beyond basic investigation, did not even reach the engineering phase let alone industrialization. They could not even boil a cup of water. It turns out they were quite off in their yield estimations in any case and that''s why they did not think a bomb was feasible. Oppenheimer was only competing against himself we now know.
By the way, the excellent play "Copenhagen" by M. Frayn is not fictitious, it is based on the excellent biographical work by Thomas Powers.
There are also some, maybe interesting but unrelated detours. What is the relevance of the lengthy psychological profile of General Groves?
The anatomical description of the equation in question is no substitute for an explanation or derivation. Detailed description of "square" function makes very little contribution. It would have been rather simple to get to the relationship as Einstein did, by exploting the wave nature of matter, photon momentum and conservation rules. This is another key concept that is so central but completely missing.
It is possible that a casual reader will encounter for the first time some of the interesting characters and events surrounding Einstein, which are well known to the scientifically oriented, otherwise the book falls well short of the claim on its cover.
9 people found this helpful
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Lucy A.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Take the Time to Understand E=mc2
Reviewed in the United States on November 15, 2013
I originally picked this book up at a used book store in the UP of Michigan. What an amazing history behind an equation we''ve all heard about, but many don''t take the time to truly understand. I teach Natural Science at a community college and I LOVE how Bodanis writes in a... See more
I originally picked this book up at a used book store in the UP of Michigan. What an amazing history behind an equation we''ve all heard about, but many don''t take the time to truly understand. I teach Natural Science at a community college and I LOVE how Bodanis writes in a way that makes very complicated information accessible to all. I wish I had time to have my students read this because I think it would give them a greater appreciation for the fact that scientists are real people, with real struggles who have to work together and rely on what knowledge has come before them. I bought this copy as a gift for one of my fellow faculty members who also teaches Natural Science. I''m sure they will like it as much as I did.
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Folkman
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Sor: Guitar Duets, Vol.1
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 17, 2014
The book was delivered quickly and well packaged. I wasn''t expecting large print, must have missed that aspect in the description, but this wasn''t a bad thing as my eyes are not what they were. The book has an engaging style and is not difficult to read. I had not realised...See more
The book was delivered quickly and well packaged. I wasn''t expecting large print, must have missed that aspect in the description, but this wasn''t a bad thing as my eyes are not what they were. The book has an engaging style and is not difficult to read. I had not realised the part that some of the earlier characters had played due to them not receiving as much publicity as some of the more colourful in the history of science. I was very pleased with the purchase and will definitely use the supplier again.
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Tas G.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I bought this copy to read the last page! ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 4, 2018
I bought this copy to read the last page! It still didn''t have the last page....Fascinating build up to the equation!
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Michael Lawrence
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not received
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 13, 2021
I did not receive the book because the customs in Portugal kept the book. I have noo chance receiving the book becuase I must pay taxaes and send in many papers. it is a nightmare.
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Jake Ebeling
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Just what I was after.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 26, 2020
As described and delivered on time and packaged well. Thanks.
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John Buzznell "
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
recommended
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 4, 2015
Just as i expected. A layman like myself can understand this book.
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E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online

E=mc2: A Biography of the popular online World's Most Famous Equation online