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Five Equations That Changed the World: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics Paperback – Sep 12 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion (Sept. 12 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786881879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786881871
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 17 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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First Sentence
For the last several months, thirteen-year-old Isaac Newton had been watching with curiosity while workmen built a windmill just outside the town of Grantham. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
A fascinating and well written work. Michel Guillen brought to life the stories of the equations. When I had these in college, they were no where near as interesting!
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Format: Hardcover
Delightfully written, easy to follow, Guillen describes the personal situations and scientific context of Newton's Law of Gravitation, Bernoulli's Law of Hydrodynamic Pressure, Faraday's Law of Electromagnetic Induction, Clausius's Second Law of Thermodynamics, and Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity (the equivalence of mass and energy).
As is the recent custom outside of textbooks, Guillen has given an exceptional amount of personal detail, letting us be amazed once more about how much these five scientists achieved despite personal situations that varied from ordinary to awful. Furthermore, the resistance from other scientists of their times is still surprising to some of us, while the resistance of the Catholic Church is not.
Guillen's efforts to provide clear explanations for the discoveries mostly succeed, least well for Clausius's Second Law of Thermodynamics, in my opinion. Many clever similes are used. A better explanation of the inverted delta in Clerk-Maxwell's equation on Faraday's Law of Electromagnetic Induction is needed. Guillen defines it as "the amount of" (p158), while "the rate of change" might be better. The math does not go beyond high school algebra, with that one exception, so the mathematically challenged such as this reviewer need not fear.
What is very disappointing is the number of errors:
1. On p27 globes are said to 2-dimensional, when they are actually 3-dimensional; circles are 2-dimensional.

2. On p36 et seq planetary motion around the sun is said to follow oval paths, when the paths are actually elliptical. These are different shapes.
3. On p137 the Leyden jar was said to be the forerunner of the modern battery. In fact is was the ancestor of the modern capacitor.
4.
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Format: Hardcover
The author of this book should be hung up by his thumbs whilst being slowly beaten to death by irate readers. Hopefully they will bludgeon him with several large encylopaedias whilst chanting, "check the facts, check the facts."
This may and it's a large MAY be the only thing that stops the revolving in the grave of the people who's stories our supposedly contained within this book.
You know that a reader is in for a torrid time when only five, yes, five pages into the first chapter is a mistake so incredibly stupid that you have to wish that the author included it as either a joke or to try and keep his readers awake. Unfortunately neither seems to be the case. Just so you don't choke on your own bodily fluids if you make the mistake of reading this book, here it is. The king of England at the time of the civil war Dr. Guillen was Charles the first not William the first. A small difference of 600 years between them, you know 1066 and all that. If only that was the only error, or if only I had stopped reading. Several people had corrected the numerous errors in my library copy; I'm fighting the urge to add my own corrections.
This book is the literary equivalent of a car crash. You know you don't want to look at the devastation and suffering but somehow you just can't seem to stop yourself.
A lot more facts and a lot less sensationalism would have helped this book.
As it is the incredibly annoying section on heat makes you think that Fahrenheit 451 with fond memories.
If you want a book on the poetry of maths grab Mandlebrots book on fractals. Yes its a chalanging read, but worth every bit if energy you expend on it and by the end you will see some of the most beautiful maths imaginable.
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Format: Paperback
It is difficult for me to review this book. "Five Equations That Changed The World" suffers from a racist, anti-German stereotype the author invokes in the chapter about Einstein that I simply cannot get out of my mind. Sadly, whenever I think of this book that ugly comment is all I will think about. Except for that comment I would have given it four stars.
Aside from that, I rather liked "Five Equations That Changed The World" and would generally recommend it to the non-technical reader. Michael Guillen's choice of the five equations combines the obvious (Newton and Einstein) with the interesting, more obscure choices of Michael Faraday and Rudolph Clausius.
I especially like the way author Guillen describes the scientific and philosophical worldview into which each of his five geniuses was born. This is critical - because this is not a book about five men; it is a book about five Earth-shattering ideas that changed the way science (and eventually society) looks at the universe.
Extremely interesting is the chapter about Clausius and his formulation of the concept of entropy.
Less interesting to me was the details of each man's life. The author attributes too much importance to incidents in the lives of his subjects that have little bearing on the ideas they developed. It is evident that author Guillen holds to a strongly Judeo-Christian religious point of view. It is important to note that Guillen's religious views appear to have something to do with his selection of subjects and intrudes often in his telling of their lives. The passionate Protestant religious convictions of Faraday and Clausius is something I did not realize. I also never knew that Einstein was an ardent Zionist.
I highly recommend this book to a high school student who has to write an essay about Newton, Bernoulli, Faraday, Clausius, or Einstein. I also recommend it to adults with an interest in the historical evolution of the modern scientific worldview.
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