The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments
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The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  491 ratings  ·  106 reviews
George Johnson tells the stories of ten beautiful experiments which changed the world. From Galileo singing to mark time as he measured the pull of gravity and Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his own eye, to Joule packing a thermometer on his honeymoon to take the temperature of waterfalls and Michelson recovering from a dark depression to discover that light mo...more
Hardcover, 148 pages
Published 2011 by The Folio Society (first published January 1st 2008)
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The table of contents was not promising. The book promises the ten "most" beautiful experiments but doesn't have Rutherford discovering the nucleus? But it does have Galvani chopping up frogs to find out if they transmit electricity.

But as I read, I came to appreciate Johnson's idiosyncratic selections. Rather than reading the Nth treatment of classic experiments, he presents some very interesting and well-told vignettes. Especially of Galvani and the frogs. And Pavlov, who turns out to have lov...more
It has been said that the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. That's a great line. I'm not sure but it seems to me that ignorance and the illusion of knowledge are one and the same. A great example of this is when J. J. Thomson said he found an electrically charged particle with an independent existence inside of an atom. People had trouble accepting electrons. After all, the word atom means uncuttable.

Experimental science began less than 400 years ago wi...more
This is exactly what the title says--the ten most beautiful experiments as reckoned by the author, a science reporter for the New York Times among other publications. To clarify beautiful, his meaning is experiments that were performed by small groups or individuals rather that committees (the author points out the paper announcing the discovery of top quarks had over 400 contributors) and motivated by insatiable curiosity rather than economics.

With that in mind the author's list is as follows:...more
Jun 26, 2008 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people wishing to recreate classic physics experiments
The writing was fairly technical, so I'm not sure if this book will work for the popular audience Johnson seems to want. Johnson didn't give much context or analysis about the implications of these experiments, which I would have found more enlightening than precise descriptions of exactly how the experiments were carried out. His choices are also very heavy on physics and experimentation on animals, neither of which are particular favorites of mine.
Nik Perring
Probably wasted on this unscientific mind of mine, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who's interested in things. Well written, easy to understand, and interesting.
Luca Mauri
La presentazione del libro mi ha subito preso: un testo a proposito degli esperimenti e non sulle persone. Quindi mi aspettavo un testo estremamente tecnico e anche meccanico: in parte il libro ha soddisfatto le aspettative. Tuttavia, in generale, l'ho trovato un testo scritto in maniera piuttosto affrettata: ogni esperimento �� solo tratteggiato non descritto nei dettagli come mi aspettavo.
ne esce un libro che rappresenta una lettura veloce e molto scorrevole, ma che non riesce a trasmettere le...more
Garrett Mccutcheon
This book is a fun and quick read. For anyone interested in the experimental side of the physical sciences, this book presents an interesting popular presentation of the structure and context of the experiments selected by the author. As stated in the preface, the author used his own discretion to determine the 10 "most beautiful" experiments, and anyone is free to come up with their own list. That being said, the only thing I wish for with regards to this book is that it were longer; both longe...more
This book is a slender little volume, and was the only one of the books I won from Sky that arrived as a hardback. I found it fascinating, gruesome, and incomprehensible.

Sadly, my knowledge of science has probably not increased one bit, as I lack the knowledge to access the information in this book. Magnets are moved about and a motor is created. What? A motor like the one in my car? Other descriptions of experiments lost me after the first few sentences. I cannot recall one from the other now,...more
Loves me some science, and it was entertaining to read about the actual experiments (and experimenters) behind all those laws and formulas and givens that formed the foundation of my college education. And, I say this with some reserve, knowing my geekiness will be displayed in all its glory, but I really liked seeing the copies of real scientists' journal entries; seeing the sketches and real hand-writing that captured what they were exploring and finding was a wee bit thrilling. But it was sti...more
This is a strange book. I want very much to like it, but the writing and subject matter is so uneven in some places that I can't quite bring myself to rate it higher than 'It was ok'. Allow me to explain why.

Let me start with the last chapter for if the entire book had been like this, it would have been far better. Here Johnson repeats Millikan's experiment, giving firsthand information on what the experiment was like. He mixes his own narration with the story of Millikan, making sure to link th...more
Alexandra Joy
Enjoyable book, which taught me about experiments I was unfamiliar with. Synopses include Galileo (motion of uniformly accelerated objects), William Harvey (how blood is pumped to the body from the heart), Isaac Newton (developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors that form the visible spectrum), Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier (found and termed both oxygen and hydrogen), Luigi Galvani (discovered that the muscles of dead frogs legs twit...more
Eh. If I understood science a little bit better this probably would have been more interesting. I mostly just skimmed over the pages where equations were being explained.

The most "fun" part of this book was the recognition. The chapters, or experiments, don't start out like a news story where they explain all the pertinent information for digestion and then work slowly through all the details in order of importance.

It works more like a mystery novel. You are given a name and sometimes a relativ...more
My wife pointed out this book and Barnes and Noble and I knew instanty I had to have it.

I'm an enormous fan of James Burke's original 1978 Connections Series - I'll go so far as this: it may be the greatest documentary in the history of the genre. So it seemed natural that George Johnson's book, that highlights some of the same experiments Burke chronicled 30+ years ago, would be a good fit for me.

Johnson's book is thorough, but lacks Connections' compelling, if quirky narrative. Granted their g...more
John Catlin
George Johnson used eloquent writing and interesting stories; both historical and personal anecdotes, to tell the story of some of the most important scientific experiments ever conducted. He calls them the most “beautiful” experiments because they were the product of one man’s intuition, curiosity, and artistic expression. Johnson helped me appreciate these ten historic experiments which were all conducted with great simplicity. Each experiment helped to reveal some key feature about us or the...more
This book describes ten scientific experiments that the author feels best exemplify clear thinking and elegant experimental design. What I enjoyed while reading this book was not primarily the description of the actual experiments, which added little to what I already knew about them, but rather the description of the earlier theories that the experiments refuted. Popular science education, when it does present these earlier theories (humors, aether, Aristotelian motion, alchemy, etc), presents...more
Steven Pattison
In the prologue the author describes a beautiful experiment as - "The great experiments that mark the edges of our understanding were most often performed by one or two scientists and usually on a tabletop.....these experiments were designed and conducted with such elegance that they deserved to be called beautiful"

Given it's a science book it did start off a tad slow for me, but it picked up mid way through. It's an interesting read with science school textbook content but written in laymen pr...more
Samantha Penrose
One might refer to a person like myself as being "scientifically challenged", but even I was able to enjoy this book.
I found it to be well written and easily accessible to anyone. I fully understood and enjoyed where three of the experiments/experimenters were coming from and was able to appreciate the rest of them even without a full grasp on what was happening. I think that they were explained well.....I just have trouble wrapping my particular mind around certain concepts.
I waited a while to...more
While visiting Santa Fe, I picked up this book in Collected Works, an excellent little bookshop off of Santa Fe's main square. At the time, I was in the process of reading Lisa Jardine's excellent "Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution." While I have as a rule avoided reading two or more books simultaneously in recent years, I felt this volume to possess enough overlap with Jardine's book as to make it less difficult to make the segue.

This is a fun little book that illustrates...more
George Johnson wrote one of my favourite science books: A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer, so I wanted to give some of his other works a try.

One of the reasons I love A Shortcut Through Time so much is that even though I don't have a scientific bent, I understood everything he was writing about quantum mechanics and quantum computing. It all made sense to me, all the way through, and yet I didn't feel as if my hand was being held. That is not true for this book.

I'm very occasionally tempted to idealize the key scientific insights of past centuries relative to the present, a la 'science used to be simple and elegant, with key insights defined by definitive straightforward experiments.' The reality, of course, is both reassuring and awe-inspiring: the ten most beautiful experiments are elegant and certainly definitive in retrospect, but they were far from straightforward or facile when they were being conducted (or even to duplicate). Only when diligence...more
Jul 27, 2008 Rebecca rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rebecca by: Jeremy D.
Galileo's gravity, William Harvey's circulation, Isaac Newton's Prisms, Pavlovs dogs, Millikan's dancing electrons, also the explorations of Lavoisier, Faraday, Joule, Michelson...
I am not a scientist. But I enjoyed this book-- I enjoyed understanding some of the meticulous grace of "tabletop" experiments revealing great truths about the way the universe works.
I wish that I had a better technical understanding of the machinery of the experiments and the range of the implications-- sure it sound...more
In the prologue to this book, George Johnson writes:

"Science in the twenty-first century has become industrialized.... But until very recently the most earthshaking science came from individual pairs of hands.... The great experiments that mark the edges of our understanding were most often performed by one or two scientists and usually on a tabletop. Computation, if there was any, was carried out on paper or later with a slide rule."

The experiments described in this book truly are beautiful - i...more
Johnson's a good writer, who does a great job of telling the stories behind some of the foundational science that has shaped our understanding of the world around us. Sure, it's a little arbitrary to call these then ten "most beautiful" experiments, but there's no denying that all of the experiments can easily be called "beautiful" or, if you prefer, "elegant". In addition to doing a good job of explaining the actual experiments, he also explains the questions that prompted the experiments, whic...more
Those are some beautiful experiments. Most beautiful of all though? I can think of a few that Johnson omits. Then again, so -- as he tells us -- can he. No quibbles with the ten he chose. Each is an ingenious moment in the march of science. Amazing how far simple and elegant experimental design brought us. Johnson's little essays are pop science gems: informative, entertaining, and inspiring.
I have no idea why I'm so seduced by slender little books, but I am. Perusing through my father's latest Scientific American book grabs, I found this tiny volume. It is a series of vignettes describing some of the best and most elegant experiments performed, including Galileo's ramp, Pavlov's dogs, and Millikan's oil drop experiments. The book was really well written, being both concise and interesting. The book also revealed some surprising facts, such as Pavlov's immense love for his dogs (int...more
pripočam v branje. Bolj primerno za tiste ki jim je znanost blizu. Na trenutke je zelo podrobno in včasih malo težje brati če ti koncepti kot so "različne kovine povzročajo napetost" niso tako blizu oz. te ne zanimajo.

Drugače zelo zanimivo in lepo prikaže zgodovino znanosti oz. kako so v tistih časih uspeli narediti zelo napredne poiskuse s praktičo "kuhinjskim" orodjem. Recimo kako so izmerili hitrost svetlobe, pa maso atomov... in to z izredno natančnostjo.

Če malo karikiram, bolj postane jasno...more
while it's a quick read (i finished it in ~4 hours - thank you VTA), it's a good start for anyone who is mildly interested in where all of these good ideas come from. while the experiments described are indeed mind-boggling, it's not some much that they were performed, but for what reasons they were performed, and with what materials used, with what ideas were already going around at the time (my favorite would have to be the Galenites' theory of blood). i could have seen this book be twice as t...more
Cindy Jacobsen
Beautiful writing, interesting scientists, and clearly described experiments make this an engaging book. I had to stop reading after each experiment to go online and find out more about the science and scientists. It's a great read if you enjoy reading about science.
A fun, quick read, but not really written very well. I should have possibly given it a lower rating, but the experiments are well chosen and fun. The drawings/diagrams and explanations are somewhat tedious and ultimately not that informative, the historical background is randomly anecdotal (not germane) and sometimes irritatingly speculative. In the final experiment, the author includes information about his own attempt to recreate the Millikan oil drop experiment (mass and charge of the electro...more
Katherine Collins
This book helps to connect science and people – Johnson enlivens the experimenters as well as their experiments. Did you know that Pavlov intended to become a priest, but then started sneaking into the library to read Darwin? That he was deeply concerned with the ethical issues surrounding animal experimentation If you are a science geek, this is a fun and light skip through history; if you are a humanities lover, this is a great reminder that science and people are not two different subjects.
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