Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Physics by J. L. Heilbron

book cover
Physics: a short history
from quintessence to quarks
by J. L. Heilbron

ISBN-13: 9780198746850
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Released: Dec. 1, 2015

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
J. L. Heilbron introduces us to Islamic astronomers and mathematicians, calculating the size of the earth whilst their caliphs conquered much of it; to medieval scholar-theologians investigating light; to Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton, measuring, and trying to explain, the universe. We visit the 'House of Wisdom' in 9th-century Baghdad; Europe's first universities; the courts of the Renaissance; the Scientific Revolution and the academies of the 18th century; the increasingly specialised world of 20th and 21st century science.

Highlighting the shifting relationship between physics, philosophy, mathematics, and technology -- and the implications for humankind's self-understanding -- Heilbron explores the changing place and purpose of physics in the cultures and societies that have nurtured it over the centuries.

My Review:
Physics is a brief history of metaphysics and physics in Europe, the Middle East, and the USA. It's not really about the ideas or how they built on each other, but rather what people thought of these ideas and how ideas competed with each other. The first third of the book mainly focused on what various people thought about Aristotle's physica & metaphysical writings. After that, mathematics were mentioned more often. The last half covered changing ideas through experimentation.

The author would name a person, when he lived, and give an extremely brief description of how they applied, preserved, debated, or modified previous people's ideas or what new idea they had. He assumed the reader had a level of knowledge about physics that I haven't retained from my high school physics course. He'd refer to a Rule, formula, or discovery and assume the reader knew what he was talking about, so he didn't explain further. For example, we're told Descartes wrote "on how to improve telescope lenses and how the lenses and muscles of the eye works" and that's all we get on that.

The author also used a formal tone and technical language, which didn't make for easy reading. For someone already familiar with these ideas, this book might help show how these ideas were debated over time. But since I was mostly unfamiliar with the ideas, I had a hard time grasping why these ideas even mattered since their impact on society wasn't usually explained.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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