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Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light Paperback – Feb 27 2007

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (Feb. 27 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061227978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061227974
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.1 x 23.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #30,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Bold and persuasive...solidly researched and gracefully presented...Never before has such material been explored deeply and lucidly enough for non-specialists."--"San Francisco Chronicle""Provacative...passionate...[Shlain] is an engaging storyteller, skilled in the use of metaphor, analogy, and even imaginary journeys that at times are poetic."--"The New York Times Book Review""In eighteen years as an art critic I have not encountered more provacative insightful writing about art."--"Seattle Times""Leonard Shlain's "Art & Physics "is exquisite food for thought."--Fritjof Capra, author of "The Tao of Physics""A tour de force...A brilliant, accessible, and visionary look at the most revolutionary artists and scientists from the Golden Age of Greece to the present."--"Los Angeles Times Book Review"

About the Author

Leonard Shlain is Chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution. Dr. Shlain lectures internationally and has been featured on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and NPR. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

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Fabulous book that is very well written. Every one should read this book.
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must read
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa387f7a4) out of 5 stars 17 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa38b3204) out of 5 stars Selective Sampling in Action Jan. 7 2014
By D. Dobkin - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am in close agreement with Mr. Durand's review and will not bother to rehash its points. Dr. Shlain's understanding of post-Newtonian physics is superficial at best. His arguments about the connections between art and physics are often incoherent and always unconvincing. He ignores profoundly obvious issues, such as the fact that the invention of photography in the 19th century meant that the revenue stream of representative artists was threatened by cheap accurate images. They had to invent new things to paint and sculpt in order to make a living -- a much more plausible explanation for the changes in art in that period than assertions of mysterious precognition. He makes a great deal of the abandonment of shadows in modern art as a prelude to relativistic physics -- as a physician, one would have thought that he would realize that people don't store images of objects but representations of objects: you don't remember how something is illuminated, you remember how it is shaped. It is natural to draw or paint a shape and not its illuminated representation, and he correctly points out that many traditional arts do exactly that. Did cave painters at Lascaux or Cosquer -- who were often wonderfully skilled -- anticipate relativity thirty thousand years ago? The argument becomes absurd. And let's not even get started on the chapter on the Universal Mind, a phenomenon for which no evidence whatsoever is presented.

This is all very sad, because the book is actually worth reading even with its faults. The thesis Dr. Shlain should have examined, and the one that is interesting to reflect upon as you progress, is the influence that concepts that are available in a society have on what a scientist or an artist can think of. It is well-known today that the language you speak influences how you think, because you get good at what you practice. Do the ideas that people encounter in their daily life play an important role in creative invention? Are advances delayed because the requisite pictures are not available for the researcher or artist to exploit?

And many of the artworks reproduced (sadly in grayscale) in the book have their own charm irrespective of the interpretations foisted upon them. So don't be afraid to buy or borrow the book -- just have realistic expectations and a bit of skepticism.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa38b3258) out of 5 stars Interesting Connections May 6 2008
By Dr. Joan E. Aitken - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book seeks to provide connections about art and science. I would have liked more visual illustrations, but anyone who seeks to understand the patterns of this world will find the ideas interesting.

Academic disciplines have become segregated in our individual disciplines, so this kind of synthesis is unique.

I bought this book because it was recommended by one of my graduate students. The book was a gift for an engineer who enjoys art and design.
66 of 90 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa38b3534) out of 5 stars Shallow and confused Dec 30 2007
By Fredo Durand - Published on
Format: Paperback
Leonard Shlain is a surgeon, not an art historian neither a physicist. His culture is impressively broad, but unfortunately shallow. His main thesis in this book is that basically all scientific discoveries were anticipated by artists. I find the interwoven relationship between art and science absolutely fascinating, but this book is not a reference that I would recommand on the topic.

The main problem is that this book abuses of the juxtaposition of unrelated facts, and presents them with such virtuosity that a magical causality seem to appear. Shlain presents ancient thoughts with the enlightenment of modern frameworks, subtly rewriting them, emphasizing concept and translating them such that they seem to fit with forthcoming theories.

This kind of pitfall has been described by Kuhn (the structure of scientific revolution). For example, if Newtonian mechanics can be expressed in the framework of relativity, relativity is NOT and extension of Newtonian physics, there is a fundamental revolution between them. It is only because Newtonian physics has been rewritten that it becomes more compatible with Einstein's new insights.

Moreover, Shlain's understanding of relativity is weak at best. For example, he often makes the confusion between the effect of the finite speed of light (which can be expressed in a Newtonian context) and relativity.

I was all the more disappointed that some of the issues are actually relevant and fascinating: relativity, non Euclidean, surrealism and cubism for example do share a common revolution of the notion of space (and thus of the place of humans in the world). Unfortunately, Shlain's caricatural statements are irrelevant: Manet had absolutely no idea of the concepts involved in relativity, and Einstein himself pointed out that cubism had nothing to deal with relativity (as opposed to Picasso's claims).

If you want a good introduction to art history, read Gombrich, if you want to learn about physics in a broad context, read Zajong (Catching the light).
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa38b3a50) out of 5 stars Amazing correlations Jan. 9 2012
By Hazel - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A different and thought provoking book relating artists insights to discoveries in physics.Fascinating reading.I definitely recommend this book. I find I have to read it first thing in the morning when I am able to concentrate. It is not for a relaxed read!
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa38b3318) out of 5 stars Art & Physics:Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light June 14 2007
By Karen Reisdorf - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought this was a wonderful book. Tying the evolution of art to the evolution of thinking and science gave me a more holistic way to look at art. From the ancient Greeks through the Dark and Middle Ages, the Impressionists, and into modern times the parallels of physics to art are simply amazing. Perfect for us "left-brained" types.