Essential reading on the history of physics

Venture onto the path of the physicists, to discover by yourself what a few men and women have made known to the rest of the mankind.
Leviathan and the Air-Pump
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Leviathan and the Air-Pump

by Steven Shapin,Simon Schaffer

About the book:  Leviathan and the Air-Pump examines the conflicts over the value and propriety of experimental methods between two major seventeenth-century thinkers: Thomas Hobbes, author of the political treatise Leviathan and vehement critic of systematic experimentation in natural philosophy, and Robert Boyle, mechanical philosopher and owner of the newly invented air-pump. The issues at stake in their disputes ranged from the physical integrity of the air-pump to the intellectual integrity of the knowledge it might yield. Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild. The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens--facts, interpretations, experiment, truth--were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer use the confrontation between Hobbes and Boyle as a way of understanding what was at stake in the early history of scientific experimentation. They describe the protagonists' divergent views of natural knowledge, and situate the Hobbes-Boyle disputes within contemporary debates over the role of intellectuals in public life and the problems of social order and assent in Restoration England. In a new introduction, the authors describe how science and its social context were understood when this book was first published, and how the study of the history of science has changed since then.

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Drawing Theories Apart
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Drawing Theories Apart

by David Kaiser

About the book:  Winner of the 2007 Pfizer Prize from the History of Science Society. Feynman diagrams have revolutionized nearly every aspect of theoretical physics since the middle of the twentieth century. Introduced by the American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-88) soon after World War II as a means of simplifying lengthy calculations in quantum electrodynamics, they soon gained adherents in many branches of the discipline. Yet as new physicists adopted the tiny line drawings, they also adapted the diagrams and introduced their own interpretations. Drawing Theories Apart traces how generations of young theorists learned to frame their research in terms of the diagrams—and how both the diagrams and their users were molded in the process. Drawing on rich archival materials, interviews, and more than five hundred scientific articles from the period, Drawing Theories Apart uses the Feynman diagrams as a means to explore the development of American postwar physics. By focusing on the ways young physicists learned new calculational skills, David Kaiser frames his story around the crafting and stabilizing of the basic tools in the physicist's kit—thus offering the first book to follow the diagrams once they left Feynman's hands and entered the physics vernacular.

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China and Albert Einstein
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China and Albert Einstein

by Danian HU

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Life Atomic
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Life Atomic

by Angela N. H. Creager

About the book:  After World War II, the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) began mass-producing radioisotopes, sending out nearly 64,000 shipments of radioactive materials to scientists and physicians by 1955. Even as the atomic bomb became the focus of Cold War anxiety, radioisotopes represented the government’s efforts to harness the power of the atom for peace—advancing medicine, domestic energy, and foreign relations. In Life Atomic, Angela N. H. Creager tells the story of how these radioisotopes, which were simultaneously scientific tools and political icons, transformed biomedicine and ecology. Government-produced radioisotopes provided physicians with new tools for diagnosis and therapy, specifically cancer therapy, and enabled biologists to trace molecular transformations. Yet the government’s attempt to present radioisotopes as marvelous dividends of the atomic age was undercut in the 1950s by the fallout debates, as scientists and citizens recognized the hazards of low-level radiation. Creager reveals that growing consciousness of the danger of radioactivity did not reduce the demand for radioisotopes at hospitals and laboratories, but it did change their popular representation from a therapeutic agent to an environmental poison. She then demonstrates how, by the late twentieth century, public fear of radioactivity overshadowed any appreciation of the positive consequences of the AEC’s provision of radioisotopes for research and medicine.

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Masters of Theory
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Masters of Theory

by Andrew Warwick

About the book:  Winner of the the Susan Elizabeth Abrams Prize in History of Science. When Isaac Newton published the Principia three centuries ago, only a few scholars were capable of understanding his conceptually demanding work. Yet this esoteric knowledge quickly became accessible in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Britain produced many leading mathematical physicists. In this book, Andrew Warwick shows how the education of these "masters of theory" led them to transform our understanding of everything from the flight of a boomerang to the structure of the universe. Warwick focuses on Cambridge University, where many of the best physicists trained. He begins by tracing the dramatic changes in undergraduate education there since the eighteenth century, especially the gradual emergence of the private tutor as the most important teacher of mathematics. Next he explores the material culture of mathematics instruction, showing how the humble pen and paper so crucial to this study transformed everything from classroom teaching to final examinations. Balancing their intense intellectual work with strenuous physical exercise, the students themselves—known as the "Wranglers"—helped foster the competitive spirit that drove them in the classroom and informed the Victorian ideal of a manly student. Finally, by investigating several historical "cases," such as the reception of Albert Einstein's special and general theories of relativity, Warwick shows how the production, transmission, and reception of new knowledge was profoundly shaped by the skills taught to Cambridge undergraduates. Drawing on a wealth of new archival evidence and illustrations, Masters of Theory examines the origins of a cultural tradition within which the complex world of theoretical physics was made commonplace.

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Black Holes and Time Warps
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Black Holes and Time Warps

by Kip S. Thorne

About the book:  Examines such phenomena as black holes, wormholes, singularities, gravitational waves, and time machines, exploring the fundamental principles that control the universe.

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Cosmic Anger
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Cosmic Anger

by Gordon Fraser

About the book:  This book presents a biography of Abdus Salam, the first Muslim to win a Nobel Prize for Science (Physics 1979), who was nevertheless excommunicated and branded as a heretic in his own country. His achievements are often overlooked, even besmirched. Realizing that the whole world had to be his stage, he pioneered the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, a vital focus of Third World science which remains as his monument. A staunch Muslim, he was ashamed of the decline of science in the heritage of Islam, and struggled doggedly to restore it to its former glory. Undermined by his excommunication, these valiant efforts were doomed.

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Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field
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Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field

by Nancy Forbes,Basil Mahon

About the book:  The story of two brilliant nineteenth-century scientists who discovered the electromagnetic field, laying the groundwork for the amazing technological and theoretical breakthroughs of the twentieth century Two of the boldest and most creative scientists of all time were Michael Faraday (1791-1867) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879). This is the story of how these two men - separated in age by forty years - discovered the existence of the electromagnetic field and devised a radically new theory which overturned the strictly mechanical view of the world that had prevailed since Newton's time. The authors, veteran science writers with special expertise in physics and engineering, have created a lively narrative that interweaves rich biographical detail from each man's life with clear explanations of their scientific accomplishments. Faraday was an autodidact, who overcame class prejudice and a lack of mathematical training to become renowned for his acute powers of experimental observation, technological skills, and prodigious scientific imagination. James Clerk Maxwell was highly regarded as one of the most brilliant mathematical physicists of the age. He made an enormous number of advances in his own right. But when he translated Faraday's ideas into mathematical language, thus creating field theory, this unified framework of electricity, magnetism and light became the basis for much of later, 20th-century physics. Faraday's and Maxwell's collaborative efforts gave rise to many of the technological innovations we take for granted today - from electric power generation to television, and much more. Told with panache, warmth, and clarity, this captivating story of their greatest work - in which each played an equal part - and their inspiring lives will bring new appreciation to these giants of science.

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Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics
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Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics

by John Archibald Wheeler

About the book:  The autobiography of one of the preeminent figures in twentieth-century physics. He studied with Niels Bohr, taught Richard Feynman, and boned up on relativity with his friend and colleague Albert Einstein. John Archibald Wheeler's fascinating life brings us face to face with the central characters and discoveries of modern physics. He was the first American to learn of the discovery of nuclear fission, later coined the term "black hole," led a renaissance in gravitation physics, and helped to build Princeton University into a mecca for physicists. From nuclear physics, to quantum theory, to relativity and gravitation, Wheeler's work has set the trajectory of research for half a century. His career has brought him into contact with the most brilliant minds of his field; Fermi, Bethe, Rabi, Teller, Oppenheimer, and Wigner are among those he called colleagues and friends. In this rich autobiography, Wheeler reveals in fascinating detail the excitement of each discovery, the character of each colleague, and the underlying passion for knowledge that drives him still.

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