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The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  774 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
From the acclaimed New York Times science writer George Johnson, an irresistible book on the ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science—moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply.

Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 8th 2008 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2008)
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In the author's preamble to The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, I was slightly alarmed to see Cormac McCarthy thanked for his help composing the manuscript of this scientific history. Presumably this is a different Cormac McCarthy, but one does wonder.
JOHNSON: Now then, Cormac, where were we. Chapter Eight; new paragraph. Quote: ‘Edward Morley, a chemist at neighboring Western Reserve University, was as meticulous a scientist as Michelson. The two men agreed that it would be pointless to make an
Aug 16, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
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
Abu Hasan
Nov 18, 2014 Abu Hasan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
هناك الكثير من الظواهر الطبيعية التي ننظر إليها اليوم بشكل طبيعي جداً بعد أن فهمنا آلية عملها، لكن من أو أو سنة أو أكثر كانت هذه الظواهر غامضة ومحيرة للعلماء الذين كانوا يبذلون جهدهم بما يتوفر لديهم من أدوات وتقنيات عصرهم لفهمها وتفسيرها
من فهم القوانين التي تحكم حركة الأشياء إلى عملية فصل الإلكترونات من الذرات، مرورا بفهم ألوان قوس قزح خاصة والألوان عامة، ومحاولة قياس سرعة الصوت، وإنتاج الكهرباء وغيرها من التجارب العلمية الرائدة والتي غيرت مفهومنا ونظرتنا للكثير من الظواهر وساهمت في تطور العل
Mar 21, 2014 Jimmy rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Nik Perring
Jan 26, 2009 Nik Perring rated it really liked it
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.
Ahmed Almawali
Apr 09, 2015 Ahmed Almawali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ميزةُ كتابِ جورج جونسون الحائزِ على جائزةِ الصحافةِ العلميةِ ليس بذكرِ هذه التجاربِ العشرِ فقد تناولها قبلَه كثيرون ميزتُه تبقى أنَّه اتبعَ الأسلوبَ القصصي السردي وكأنَّها أشبهُ بقصةٍ تتداخلُ فيها عناصرُ خيالٍ لسدِّ ثغراتٍ لابد منها، وميزتُه الأخرى أّنه مطعَّمٌ بكثيرٍ من الرسوماتِ المستقاةِ من يومياتِ ومذكراتِ أولئك العلماءِ
هذه التجاربُ العشرُ هي تجاربٌ أثرتْ في العالَم بأسرِه، وخلقت ثورةً جديدةً كلٌّ في مجالِه وإنْ كان قد أهملَ علماءَ العربِ، والغريبُ أنها جميعها جوبهتْ بالرفضِ والنقدِ والسخرية
Feb 19, 2010 Vanessa rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
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:
David Schwan
Some of the experiments in this book I was quite aware of, some not so much. For me the most interesting experiments had to do with thermodynamics. I had studied thermodynamics in college but when you study it nothing is really put in context (atomic and nuclear physics tend to be taught in part from an historical perspective). I had not really been exposed to the history of thermodynamics before and thus those experiments made more sense with their history explained. The first experiment was fr ...more
Dec 17, 2014 Clarisse rated it really liked it
Uma verdadeira aula
Jun 26, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it
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.
إسراء طه
Mar 09, 2016 إسراء طه rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
كتاب علمي بأسلوب بسيط وسهل جيد الترجمة.
يأخذك الكتاب إلي رحاب العلم والعلماء إلي يومياتهم،ومذكراتهم عن تجاربهم،تعيش معهم شغفهم وإرادتهم للوصول إلي نتيجة مسبقة في خيالهم أرادوا لها مكانا في الواقع أو بحثا عما ستؤول إليه التجربة دون إستنتاج مسبق.
بما ان معرفتي بالتجارب العلمية ليست كبيرة فبإمكاني بسهولة أن أعتبر أن مجموعة التجارب تلك جميلة :-)
الكاتب في نهاية كتابه أضاف ما سماه التجربة الحادية عشر الاجمل ووضع اسماء كثيرة لعلماء اخرين وتجارب اخري وتساءل هو نفسه لم لم يجعلها من اجمل عشرة.الامر نسبي طبع
Mark Muckerman
Dec 05, 2014 Mark Muckerman rated it it was ok
Hmmmm. How to provide a review which is fair, balanced and accurate, yet doesn't portray me as a pretentious ass. . . a challenge, to be sure!

In fairness, the ten "most" of anything is subjective, and this book presents a broad spectrum of selections, and does a good job of offering education, context and relevance on what could be a very dry subject (hence the dearth of science majors in universities).

If you're a science afficionado, then you'll love it. If you pursued any science studies beyon
May 05, 2015 Rebecca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I found the first half of the book more interesting than the second, which, with the exception of Pavlov, started becoming very physics-heavy. A more diverse group of experiments would have made the book more comprehensive and compelling. Johnson is an engaging writer, but his aim to cover both biographical and experimental details (and sometimes the history of research prior to the experiment, and once even his own experiences) in so few pages is ultimately too ambitious. I often find that the ...more
Luca Mauri
Dec 26, 2013 Luca Mauri rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished, on, 2009, sep, 20
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 i
Garrett Mccutcheon
Mar 25, 2014 Garrett Mccutcheon rated it really liked it
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
Aug 24, 2014 Rachel rated it liked it
I believe three stars to be misleading. This book was nicely presented and easy to read; it summarized the lives and circumstances of the men behind what the author feels are the 10 most beautiful experiments. As a biologist I only found fault in the lack of all the sciences. The majority of experiments described could be considered studies in physics (which is fascinating but also a bit dry to read in my opinion). I would have enjoyed an assortment of the sciences but of course limiting oneself ...more
Feb 21, 2015 Tony rated it liked it
Shelves: science
THE TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS. (2008). George Johnson. ***.
This is a more-or-less pedestrian rehash of some significant advances in science made as a result of carefully planned and executed experiments by famous men of science. You will find experiments by Galileo, William Harvey, Isaac Newton, Lavoisier, and six others described in this short book, all illustrated with simple line drawings to help us visualize the experiments. Most all of the examples should be well known to the average r
Nov 30, 2009 Mandy rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008, won
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,
Mar 15, 2011 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
Alexandra Joy
Jun 07, 2011 Alexandra Joy rated it it was ok
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
Aug 06, 2012 Brian rated it it was ok
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
Apr 20, 2009 Matthew rated it liked it
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
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
Aug 28, 2008 Stuart rated it liked it
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
Samantha Penrose
Jun 24, 2009 Samantha Penrose rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
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
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
Apr 08, 2012 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, kindle
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.

Mar 13, 2009 Clara rated it really liked it
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 liked it
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
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George Johnson (born January 20, 1952) is an American journalist and science writer. He is the author of a number of books, including The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (2008) and Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999), and writes for a number of publications, including
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