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Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science [Kindle Edition]

Peter Atkins
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Amazon

These days we have this worryingly facile expectation that everything can be easily explained in 20 seconds or 20 words. Many things, especially those in philosophy and science are not easily explained but are well worth the effort required to understand them. In Galileo's Finger: the Ten Great Ideas of Science, Peter Atkins gives those of us who are not specialist scientists a great opportunity to get to grips with some of the most interesting, important and generally complex scientific concepts which have emerged over the last 500 years or more since modern science began its renaissance. Galileo's Finger covers topics that impact our everyday lives such as evolution by natural selection, inheritance encoded in DNA, the conservation of energy, entropy, the atomic structure of matter, quantum theory, the idea of the expanding universe, spacetime and mathematical reasoning. No doubt some will be disappointed that their favourite concept is not included in Atkins' top ten but as Peter Atkins explains, he focuses on ideas rather than applications; his idea has been to identify the ideas that illuminate and, in most cases, provide the foundation for technological advance, concept-driven rather than tool-driven science. There are diagrams and some formulae but anyone who can text a message on a mobile phone or negotiate the complexities of the English language should get a pretty good idea of these concepts from Galileo's Finger. As with so many things in life, motivation is half the battle. Peter Atkins is very well qualified to write with authority about such a range of topics as he is Professor of Chemistry in the University of Oxford. And because he has written several widely used textbooks on the subject he knows how to explain clearly and engagingly without getting caught up in often misleading analogies as some popular science writers do. It needs confidence in your own grasp of a subject to write straightforwardly about it as Peter Atkins does. For anyone who has always wanted to try and get to grips with some proper understanding of entropy or all those links between DNA, proteins, amino acids, RNA or PCR, here is your chance, but do not expect a quick fix. --Douglas Palmer

From Publishers Weekly

This beautifully written but at times overly ambitious book illustrates both the possibilities and the limitations of science popularizations. Chemistry professor Atkins examines the epochal ideas of science, including evolution, the role of DNA in heredity, entropy, the atomic structure of matter, symmetry, wave-particle duality, the expansion of the universe and the curvature of spacetime. Exploring the history of these concepts from the ancient Greeks onward, the chapters amount to case studies in the power of the Galilean paradigm of the "isolation of the essentials of a problem," and mathematical theorizing disciplined by real-world experiment, as humanity's understanding moves from armchair speculation and observational lore to testable theories of great explanatory power. Atkins presents this progress as a search for evermore fundamental abstractions: DNA emerges as the fleeting physical instantiation of immortal information; thermodynamics is a universal tendency to disorder; and much of physics itself a logical corollary of pure geometry. Writing in lucid, engaging prose illustrated with many ingenious diagrams, Atkins often succeeds brilliantly in conveying the deep conceptual foundations of scientific disciplines to readers lacking a mathematical background. He falters a little, like most science popularizers, at the frontiers of modern physics, where things get very abstract indeed. Atkins's examples are excellent and his prose a marvel of economy, but for most lay readers, no amount of graphical heuristics or arguments by analogy will fully explain string theory or four-dimensional space-time curvature. Still, the elegant style, wide-ranging scope, and unusually high ratio of enlightening explanation to baffling abstruseness make this book one of the best of its kind.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3540 KB
  • Print Length: 380 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0198609418
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (May 27 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #393,173 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Galileo's Finger: The 10 Great Ideas of Science Feb. 2 2004
Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science written by Peter Atkins is an excellently written book that gets to the heart of science ideas. "Galileo's Finger" takes us on a journey through the sciences on a broader context and embraces the ten central ideas of current science.
There are ten chapters taking us on a challenging but ultimately deeply satisfying journey. Science is the apotheosis of the spirit of the renaissance, an extraordinary monument to the human spirit and the power of comprehension of the puny human brain. This book is highly readable and the author makes the subject matter intelligable to the modest reader, making for an understanding of complex subject matter.
The chapters are as follows:
Evolution: The Emergence of Complexity
DNA: The Rationalization of Biology
Energy: The Universalization of Accountancy
Entropy: The Spring of Change
Atoms: The Reduction of Matter
Symmetry: The Quantification of Beauty
Quanta: The Simplification of Understanding
Cosmology: The Globalization of Reality
Spacetime: The Arena of Action
Arithmetic: The Limits of Reason
There is an epilogue for the future of understanding. The author has written the chapters in a way that you can either read them in order or read them out of order as they are free standing subjects. But, I found that that I could skim read the book and later reread in depth the subjects that piqued my interest.
This is an excellent book to be used as a introduction to scientific concepts and puts the reader into a logical approach to the scientific concepts, as you read on you'll find that you'll arrive at an emergence of understanding.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview of Science Feb. 22 2005
By e uva
P.W.(Peter) Atkins is the author of the excellent textbook "Physical Chemistry", "Molecules", a general overview of nature's chemicals from the Scientific American Library, and the imaginative "Periodic Kingdom". In his latest popularization, "Galileo's Finger", Atkins outlines what he considers are the ten central ideas of science. Without bias, he only chooses two from his own area of expertise. The rest are from the realms of biology, physics and astronomy. Given that only two to three of the chapters are part of a high school curriculum, the book is essential reading for anyone who has not studied science past that point. His writing neither oversimplifies nor bores the reader, reminiscent of the way the late Stephen Jay Gould practised his craft. I love Atkins' definition of chemistry, " It is the bridge between the perceived world of substances and the imagined world of atoms."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Panoramic view of modern science July 20 2006
This captivating book deals with the ability of the scientific method to explain the wondrous nature of the universe. The author's elegant style, clear explanations and understated humour ensure an engaging read. Atkins has chosen 10 simple concepts of great import that manifest into a giant tree of application. With its patient explanations, it is an excellent guide for the lay reader to become literate in modern sciene. The major insights of modern science discussed here are evolution, DNA, energy, entropy, atoms, symmetry, quanta, cosmology, spacetime and arithmetic. The book includes black and white photographs and illustrations, a bibliography arranged by chapter and an index. Galileo's Finger is the perfect guide for those who wish to understand science more clearly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard going in places July 13 2004
Some of the press reviews suggest that this is for the general reader. However, even with a degree in Science, I found some the explanations quite hard-going, and I think the general reader might be disappointed or frustrated, hence why I give it 3 rather than 4 stars.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Book Jan. 8 2004
The author has written the best book of its kind I have ever read - and I've read more than a few! The layout is excellent, the production leaves nothing to be desired, and the prose is both illuminating and charming. If you are looking for a book that will both stimulate and enthrall - you won't go wrong with this one.
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