- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Key Porter Books; First Edition 1st Printing edition (April 8 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1554701759
- ISBN-13: 978-1554701759
- Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14.6 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 322 g
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #133,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
First Principles: The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science Paperback – Apr 8 2009
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About the Author
HOWARD BURTON was the founding executive director of the Perimeter Institute until his retirement n 2007. He has lectured widely to scientific, government and community groups around the world. He now lives in France.
Top customer reviews
Having a huge whack of money helps, but there was still much to do. What was involved? Choosing a name: The Perimeter Institute. Talking to people at other institutes, e.g., Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, about how to do it? What works and what doesn’t? Setting up an advisory board, making some initial appointments. This was all a very delicate business. The people chosen will set the tone; they will also signal to the wold what to expect from this upstart institute in Waterloo, Ontario. Big egos are involved and they come with strong opinions. The provincial and federal governments had to be coaxed into strong financial support. There were various other matters to be settled, such as the relation with the University of Waterloo. And, of course, a building was required.
One of the more remarkable things was Howard’s insistence on an outreach programme and a cultural component, especially music. I never attended any of the musical events, but I have participated in outreach programme. It is remarkably successful, drawing an audience of several hundred each month to hear a physics lecture.
In a short space of time The Perimeter Institute became one of the leading centres of theoretical physics in the world. It’s all a wonderfully interesting story.
Howard is no longer the Director, but has now begun something new, The Ideas Road Show (http://www.ideasroadshow.com), which is as remarkably original as Perimeter.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The initial chapters, including Roger Penrose's satirical foreword about the alleged Howard Burton, are especially humorous and animated. What I found most appealing in these chapters, although they do continue throughout the book, are the combination of Burton's self-deprecating humour, his thoughts on the regrettable "cultural divide" between science and philosophy, and his grounded insights on the practice of science ("I watched many of my colleagues publish largely insignificant results to buttress their CVs", p. 31). However, it is the bizarre and life-changing happenstance that occurred with Mike Lazaridis that I still find amazing.
As the book progresses, it becomes more concerned with the administrative details and concerns of the institute: finding the correct mix of scientists and administrators, government funding and lethargy, reconciling ideological rifts in physics, and university politics. And accordingly it loses some of its initial exuberance and humour. This is when the true business of science is discussed. However, it still retains its engaging and informative narrative.
Readers who are knowledge about the world of contemporary physics and its participants will probably find the book very entertaining: Burton names a lot of names. His dig at John Bahcall (pp. 95-96), an astrophysicist at Princeton University, is in stark contrast with Burton's usual reverence towards established physicists. I only wish I were better acquainted with who these people are.
What might have improved the book is a more substantial explanation of some of the ideas (i.e., quantum computing, superstring theory, quantum gravity, etc.) being considered as appropriate topics of study at the institute - although such an approach could have slowed the pace of the account.
Another criticism that I have is that the prose is sometimes marred with awkward, run-on sentences and cliche-ridden expressions (e.g., "That was how we wanted to `make a difference', as the saying goes. But the devil was truly in the details", p.141). These flaws become very apparent during his occasional pedantic rant. His narrative works best when he employs a whimsical, matter-of fact approach, rather than a heavy-handed moralizing one.
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