E=mc2 (Anglais) Broché – 3 août 2001
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I saw the PBS program that was based on this book, so I purchased it hoping to get a more detailed treatment. All in all, I liked the film better, but this is not to say that this book is not worth reading.
The book is, as the title describes, a biography (discussion) of the famous Einstein equation. The author goes into detail describing each term (including the = sign). While I have an advanced science degree, I found that there was much of the story that I did not know. Bodanis goes into the personal relationships of all the players and puts their contributions into a social and political as well as a scientific context. I am very familiar with Michael Faraday, but did not appreciate his relationship with Maxwell. I did not realize exactly why Lavoisier was beheaded, or of the contributions of his wife. The author highlights the many overlooked contributions of women scientists. While I was well aware of the work of Lisa Meitner, I had never heard of Emilie du Chatelet and of her very important contributions to 18th century science. The book gives a brief but non-rigorous derivation of the equation itself. It is physical and logical and gave me a very good idea of how Einstein was able to equate energy and mass. Unfortunately, I think that it is a bit of a fudge, and was not the way that Einstein actually derived the formula. Nonetheless, it did let me see that the equation is a logical outgrowth of the special theory of relativity. Bodanis does this in a very readable manner and you definitely do NOT need a science background to understand and enjoy this book.
The book covers more than just the famous equation. The book goes into the Manhattan project, Nazi science and their quest for the atomic bomb, the persecution of German Jewish scientists and applications of the equation beyond the atomic bomb. As I said, I liked the film better, but this book is a very useful and entertaining companion to it, as well as a good stand alone read. I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about; the equation itself, the personalities who were involved with the various terms that make up the equation, some of the history of science (particularly as it pertains to women in science), the history of the making of the atomic bomb and a bit of cosmology. While not a complete discussion of these topics the book does give a very useful and entertaining snapshot of them.
This is not a science heavy book, nor is it a biography of Einstein. Indeed the actual science is quite minimal and if you are looking for a more scientific explanation of the theory I would suggest you try Brian Cox's Why does E=mc2 What Bodanis does is take the individual components of energy, mass and the speed of light (as well as the mathematical symbols "equals" and "squared") and provide a history of them using the personalities of those involved in their discovery before launching into the significance of the equation itself.
The book traverses the race for the atomic bomb during the second world war (taking in some accounts of Norwegian resistance raids on the heavy water plant at Vemork), Los Alamos, Hiroshima, understanding how the sun works, Black Holes and the ultimate extinction of the earth when our sun runs out of energy.
This is a light and fast pace account, taking in a number of personalities and stories you wouldn't usually hear when talking about physics. It delivers on what it sets out to do - telling us how the equation came about and how it has impacted on our world and our understanding of the universe (past, present and future). It is an ideal sounding board for a more in depth study of the equation, Einstein and physics.