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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Cover of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
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The New York Times bestseller from the author of The Order of Time and Reality Is Not What It Seems
"One of the year's most entrancing books about science."—The Wall Street Journal
"Clear, elegant...a whirlwind tour of some of the biggest ideas in physics."The New York Times Book Review


This playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics briskly explains Einstein's general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. Carlo Rovelli, a renowned theoretical physicist, is a delightfully poetic and philosophical scientific guide. He takes us to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. The book celebrates the joy of discovery. "Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world," Rovelli writes. "And it's breathtaking."
The New York Times bestseller from the author of The Order of Time and Reality Is Not What It Seems
"One of the year's most entrancing books about science."—The Wall Street Journal
"Clear, elegant...a whirlwind tour of some of the biggest ideas in physics."The New York Times Book Review


This playful, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics briskly explains Einstein's general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. Carlo Rovelli, a renowned theoretical physicist, is a delightfully poetic and philosophical scientific guide. He takes us to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. The book celebrates the joy of discovery. "Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world," Rovelli writes. "And it's breathtaking."
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Excerpts-
  • From the book From the First Lesson: The Most Beautiful of Theories

    In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not “wasting” time—something, unfortunately, that the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget. He was in Pavia. He had joined his family, having abandoned his studies in Germany, unable to endure the rigors of his high school there. It was the beginning of the twentieth century, and in Italy the beginning of its industrial revolution. His father, an engineer, was installing the first electricitygenerating power plants in the Paduan plains. Albert was reading Kant and attending occasional lectures at the University of Pavia: for pleasure, without being registered there or having to think about exams. It is thus that serious scientists are made.

    After this he registered at the University of Zurich and immersed himself in the study of physics. A few years later, in 1905, he sent three articles to the most prestigious scientific journal of the period, the Annalen der Physik. Each of these is worthy of a Nobel Prize. The first shows that atoms really exist. The second lays the first foundation for quantum mechanics, which I will discuss in the next lesson. The third presents his first theory of relativity (known today as “special relativity”), the theory that elucidates how time does not pass identically for everyone: two identical twins find that they are different in age if one of them has traveled at speed.

    Einstein became a renowned scientist overnight and received offers of employment from various universities. But something disturbed him: despite its immediate acclaim, his theory of relativity does not fit with what we know about gravity, namely, with how things fall. He came to realize this when writing an article summarizing his theory and began to wonder if the law of “universal gravity” as formulated by the father of physics himself, Isaac Newton, was in need of revision in order to make it compatible with the new concept of relativity. He immersed himself in the problem. It would take ten years to resolve. Ten years of frenzied studies, attempts, errors, confusion, mistaken articles, brilliant ideas, misconceived ideas.

    Finally, in November 1915, he committed to print an article giving the complete solution: a new theory of gravity, which he called “The General Theory of Relativity,” his masterpiece and the “most beautiful of theories,” according to the great Russian physicist Lev Landau.

    There are absolute masterpieces that move us intensely: Mozart’s Requiem, Homer’s Odyssey, the Sistine Chapel, King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty—and not only this, but the opening of our eyes to a new perspective upon the world. Einstein’s jewel, the general theory of relativity, is a masterpiece of this order.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 4, 2016
    This enchanting book from Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist, looks at physics as a continually changing quest for understanding of our universe, instead of as immutable laws of nature. These pieces, expanded from a series of articles written for a general audience that knows “little or nothing about modern science,” are not true lessons, though there are some conceptual explanations. Rather, the essays are a joyous celebration of scientific wonder. Rovelli compares Einstein’s general theory of relativity to Mozart’s Requiem or the Sistine Chapel: “To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty.” Exploring that beauty and mystery, he notes the “paradox at the heart of our understanding of the physical world.” When Rovelli arrives at the edges of certainty, his writing turns lyrical, even mystical, as science becomes “incandescent in the forge of nascent ideas.” Discussing thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, he poses a Zen-like question—“What is a vibrating time?”—that leads to the book’s heart: he asserts that the study of infinitesimal particles and black holes is part of being human, and that the divide between science and the rest of learning is artificial. “The border is porous,” Rovelli writes. “Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth.”

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 15, 2015
    Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century. These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy--or in our physics," he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man. An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2015

    General relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, and more; Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli, one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory and head of the quantum gravity group at the Centre de Physique Theorique of Aix-Marseille University in France, tells you everything you ever wanted to know about physics in under 100 pages. And it's fun, too.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Carlo Rovelli
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