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Five Equations That Changed the World: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics [Paperback]

Michael Guillen
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 12 1996
A Publishers Weekly best book of 1995!

Dr. Michael Guillen, known to millions as the science editor of ABC's Good Morning America, tells the fascinating stories behind five mathematical equations.

As a regular contributor to daytime's most popular morning news show and an instructor at Harvard University, Dr. Michael Guillen has earned the respect of millions as a clear and entertaining guide to the exhilarating world of science and mathematics.

Now Dr. Guillen unravels the equations that have led to the inventions and events that characterize the modern world, one of which -- Albert Einstein's famous energy equation, E=mc2 -- enabled the creation of the nuclear bomb. Also revealed are the mathematical foundations for the moon landing, airplane travel, the electric generator -- and even life itself.

Praised by Publishers Weekly as "a wholly accessible, beautifully written exploration of the potent mathematical imagination," and named a Best Nonfiction Book of 1995, the stories behind The Five Equations That Changed the World, as told by Dr. Guillen, are not only chronicles of science, but also gripping dramas of jealousy, fame, war, and discovery.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard mathematician Guillen looks at five mathematical breakthroughs and the theorists behind them, among them Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Guillen, an instructor in physics and mathematics at Harvard, devotes this work to discussions of five significant equations in physics and the individuals who developed them. The individuals are Issac Newton (universal gravitation), Daniel Bernoulli (hydrodynamic pressure), Michael Faraday (thermodynamics), Rudolf Clausius (thermodynamics), and Albert Einstein (special relativity). Guillen sets their work in the context of the science of their times with accounts that are obviously fictionalized, containing many purported conversations and private thoughts of the physicists in question. The prose is quite purplish in places, and the matters of fact and interpretation are often questionable if not outright wrong. Not recommended for most libraries.?Jack W. Weigel, Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, Optimistic and Sloppy March 13 2003
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.
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1.0 out of 5 stars As the physicists turn. Sept. 25 2002
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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2.0 out of 5 stars Great history of science - but with a flaw July 3 2002
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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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good seller, book and delivery service. Thanks.
Published 1 month ago by tim halligan
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I had read this before Engrg School
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!
Published on July 26 2003 by Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars It Changed My World
Our discussion group has just finished reading this, and the verdict is unanimous: Five Stars! For me, a Registered Nurse, the book brought to life what were once merely dry,... Read more
Published on April 16 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars It Changed My World
Our discussion group has just finished reading this, and the verdict is unanimous: Five Stars! For me, a Registered Nurse, the book brought to life what were once merely dry,... Read more
Published on April 16 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars the personal side to science and math
As a non-scientist but a person very interested in science and how it changes our world and the people in it, I really enjoyed this book. Read more
Published on April 12 2002 by Jim Tooher
2.0 out of 5 stars entertaining but inaccurate and sensationalized
There is a clear division of opinion on this book. I side with those who find its numerous errors and its sensationalism unpleasant. Read more
Published on March 27 2002 by David
4.0 out of 5 stars The poetry of equations --
You might characterize this book along the lines of "an opera book for people who think they don't like opera." The author, Dr. Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2002 by V. N. Dvornychenko
1.0 out of 5 stars Inadequate mathematics
I give this book the lowest possible rating because it contains
very little in-depth mathematics, and when it does attempt to
explain what is going on, the results often... Read more
Published on Dec 3 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Five Most Influential Equations
This is an interesting book. However, I feel that as a writer, he is not that good comparing to Issac Asimov or George Gamow. The flow of the book seems not continuous. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2001 by Shing Lin
2.0 out of 5 stars strange book
dr.guillen's historical sketches are entertaining, but he makes several egregiously false statements in the book. Read more
Published on Sept. 20 2001 by Larkin Breed
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