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Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives
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Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives [Kindle Edition]

Brian Clegg

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Product Description


"Although by far the feeblest of the four universal forces, gravity is the only one we experience continuously. Every inquisitive person should read a book about it, preferably this one . . . Clegg's skills never flag and his account remains lucid and free of jargon, bad jokes, and math phobia."—Kirkus (starred review)

"Clegg's accessible presentation offers insight into everything from Aristotelian science to black holes and string theory as it reveals the complexities and surprise of a familiar force that continues to surprise scientists."—Publishers Weekly

Product Description

A history of gravity, and a study of its importance and relevance to our lives, as well as its influence on other areas of science. 
Physicists will tell you that four forces control the universe. Of these, gravity may the most obvious, but it is also the most mysterious. Newton managed to predict the force of gravity but couldn’t explain how it worked at a distance. Einstein picked up on the simple premise that gravity and acceleration are interchangeable to devise his mind-bending general relativity, showing how matter warps space and time. Not only did this explain how gravity worked – and how apparently simple gravitation has four separate components – but it predicted everything from black holes to gravity’s effect on time. Whether it’s the reality of anti-gravity or the unexpected discovery that a ball and a laser beam drop at the same rate, gravity is the force that fascinates.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 416 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (May 22 2012)
  • Sold by: Macmillan CA
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006JJVQ6S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #280,857 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Down to Earth Dec 22 2012
By Keith H. Bray - Published on
It is difficult to write a review after concurrently finishing The Edge of the Universe, The Particle at the End of the Universe, and Brian Clegg's fine book Gravity--the latter two books are highly recommended both deserving of forthcoming reviews. One will find a large crossover between the contents Clegg's book and the Caroll's The Particle at the End of the Universe.

Brian Clegg has written a very interesting and popular level book for semi-initiated science readers. Indeed, most of the contents of this book should be familiar as gravity has been the driving force behind the success of Newtonian physics and Einstein's subsequent general theory of relativity. And, of course the Holy Grail for gravity is now the "search" for a quantum theory of gravity, a theory of everything by another name. What makes Clegg's standout from other books that mention the same issues, however, is written in an enjoyable and logical style. As the previous review does not say too much by way of the contents of the chapters, it is here that I will briefly turn my attentions.

The book is premised on the importance of gravity, not only for our daily lives but for the history of science, both issues that comprise chapter 1. The chapters are small and self-contained, meaning that a subsequent chapter is not premised on reading the previous chapter.

Chapters 2 through 5 look at the development and treatment of the gravity and the cosmos, from Aristotle to Ptolemy to Galileo until the reader reaches Newton. Most of this information can be gleaned from other popular level science books, but that in no way detracts from Clegg's writing style which enables the reader to easily follow the contents, and easy to memorize which is unspoken goal for many readers.

Chapter 5 talks about action-at-a-distance and Newtonian physics, focusing on his theory of gravity. This lays the foundation for Newton's detractors and the introduction to alternative views about gravity as Newton has brought the entirety of the cosmos down to earth (no pun intended). Clegg also makes mention--and this is true throughout the entire book--of interesting and collateral issues that Glegg calls "gravitational mysteries" such as the moon and tidal forces. Returning to action-at-a-distance, Clegg paves the way for Einstein's revolution.

Chapters 6 and 7 Clegg iterates Einstein's miracle year, 1905, and unpacks the topics of each one of Einstein's works, focusing on STR. The focus shifts from STR to the general theory of relativity. Clegg provides simple illustrations regarding the POE (principle of equivalence), the nature and properties of spacetime eventually getting to Minkowski's spacetime (4-D ontology) that Einstein subsequently accepted. Clegg focuses on simple examples for spacetime aside from the same "ball in a rubber sheet analogy," and why and where such analogies breakdown. Clegg discusses popular issues such as gravitational waves, gravitational lensing, and the bending of light (which he returns to later). Again, Clegg writes on these matters in an easy top digest fashion making them easy to memorize.

In Chapter 8 the book begins to turn towards quantum physics, the structure and utility of atomic particles, and the four fundamental forces. The issue of gravitons turns the reader back to events in spacetime such as black holes, the singularity, hawking radiation and other issues. These issues are somewhat of an outline for Chapters 9 and 10.

In Chapter 9 we "enter the quantum" where Clegg discusses the hunt for a quantum theory of gravity and the main theories for a new quantum theory of quantum theory of gravity such as string theory, M--theory, loop quantum gravity, and twistor theory. Each alternative is subsequently unpacked throughout the remainder of the chapter. Chapter 10 reverts back to spacetime, looking at phenomena that back up the general theory of relativity.

The final chapter unpacks the history of antigravity proponents and their failed attempts at creating artifacts (e.g., ships that can fly close to the speed of light, gyroscopes, etc.). Clegg includes an interesting discussion about the history of flying saucers. There are many more issues that are touched upon in the book, but many of these issues care also found in other books such as the two mentioned about. Again, Clegg's book gets a good rating for the reasons above and because of the collateral scientific facts that one does not usually find in other books in the same genre such (e.g., flying saucers, and pseudoscience).

Of particular import for this reviewer is his commentary following the final chapter, statements that are not uncommon when reading academic journals, overhear at seminars or when reading graduate level textbooks. For example, taking a cue from the iconic Richard Feynman, Clegg has an honest moment about the nature and limitations of science, which follow logically from the final chapter of the book that highlights attempts to create antigravity that Clegg presently assigns to the category of "science fiction."

After quoting Feynman at length, Clegg points out that Feynman "was explaining . . . physics is never going to be able to answer the ultimate question: `Why?' We can describe how nature behaves with more and more accuracy. We can observe apparent laws and constants of nature. But we can never observe questions like, `Why does gravity attract?'" In popular level reading one rarely is confronted by such honesty, which is welcome for those of us who are more inclined towards second-order disciplines such as the philosophy of physics, where both scientists and avid readers would do well in reading books by Tim Maudlin et seq.

Clegg broadly addresses the idea of multiverse (not any specific multiverse theory) in conjunction with the "weak" anthropic principle concluding, "So given the multiverse, the simple answer to `Why are things like they are?' is that they have to be or we wouldn't be here. Many people (including me) find this answer facile. Even if you accept it, all we've done is push back the `Why' a stage to ask instead `Why does the multiverse exist?' At this level we move away from science and get to metaphysics or theology." (Pages 283-84). As a reviewer my job is not to preach, but this makes Clegg's book all the better. I simple offer a hearty--bravo! A very enjoyable book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gravity May 22 2012
By Book Fanatic - Published on
This is a very interesting book. It is well written and will be compelling to those with a general interest in science like myself. The author, Brian Clegg, has done a fine job of describing what is known and what is not about this mysterious force that is at once obvious to everyone, works at a distance, and yet continues to frustrate the most brilliant scientists who work to explain it.

This book traces the history of the ideas and theories of gravity from the ancient Greeks to the present with string theory, twister theory, loop quantum gravity, and more. He discusses the so far failed attempts to detect gravity waves and the never ending quest for an anti-gravity machine. The book is very informative and I definitely learned from it.

This is a fairly easy read and quite accessible to any reader with an interest and basic understanding of science. It's fascinating and informative and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Easily recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you have a science literary bucket list, add this book to your list. Aug. 21 2013
By Richard Brone - Published on
The title is Gravity, but this book, of necessity, spreads it's intellectual inquiry into other subjects that are at the very heart of what makes this universe. The author does this because gravity is not an isolated thing. It is interconnected with the other basic forces that made this world.
One interesting thing I learned from this book is that gravity may not be smoothly continuous. It may be made up of quantum bits. If so, this could mean that there is no singularity at the heart of a black hole. Also, there are several fundamental candidate theories about the universe mentioned in this book of which I was not aware. The book contains plenty of other intellectual surprises.
Also, I think it's sad that I have to make a point of noting that the author of this book actually knows how to write.
There are plenty of other books out there where you have to wonder what was the editor thinking when he or she
agreed to publish a book by some hack of an author.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summary of the understanding of gravity over the last 2500 years June 7 2013
By Arthur W. Wallace - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am fascinated by gravity. I would like to understand not just how to accurately calculate its magnitude by Newton's formula or Enstein's General Relativity, I would like to understand how space-time is actually deformed by mass. How is the information that mass is present transmitted to space-time. So, I was disappointed that I didn't really learn anything new in Brian Clegg's book. I did not get my questions answered. The book begins with an interesting historical summary of theories of gravity. He eventually gets to general relativity. I didn't really learn anything new. If one does not have an understanding of Newtonian gravity then this book would be interesting. If one has never read about the development of general relativity, then the history is interesting. For readers who have previously read about Newton and Einstein, there is little new material. There is a very brief mention of quantum gravity and modified theories of gravity that may preclude the need for the invention of dark matter, but the word brief is important. This book is aimed directly at the non-mathematical science enthusiast who wants a historical perspective on gravity and is satisfied with a very limited description of general relativity or other modified theories of gravity. No math is provided. There are brief descriptions of gravitons without much discussion. I didn't get my questions on the mechanism for the deformation of space-time by mass, explained.
5.0 out of 5 stars Explained yet generating questions Dec 6 2014
By David Loeff author of - Published on
Books like this don’t have happy endings. In fact, they don’t have proper endings at all. They begin with questions and end with even more questions. I like to read them anyway.

Clegg begins with history: What were the earliest notions of gravity and how did they evolve? When people think of gravity they often think of Isaac Newton, but the idea of gravity had precedents in ancient Greek thought. Later, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and others elaborated on the ideas that later influenced Newton. Then in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein introduced an entirely new framework for understanding gravity.

About the time Einstein was tackling gravity, other scientists were developing quantum physics. Now a new problem arose. Einstein’s gravity is very good at explaining the behavior of large objects like stars and planets, while quantum physics can account for the behavior of small objects like atoms and particles. However, the two theories don’t play well with each other.

In the latter half of the twentieth century string theory was developed as a means of unifying the two theories. String theory, however, introduces a number of unanswerable questions. Clegg discusses several newer theories that may help resolve the problems of string theory. One of these was inspired by graphene, a one atom thick layer of graphite. When graphene is cooled to an extreme temperature, it appears to violate the rules of special relativity. Peter Horava wondered about the implications of this finding. Einstein gave us the concept of space-time. Horava’s theory break space and time apart again. By doing so, he is able to make general relativity and quantum physics work together.

All of the recently emerging theories will require further research. Gravity, being the weakest of the four forces has remained elusive. Gravitons have been hypothesized, yet never found.

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