The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg
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The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  183 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease tells the stories behind ten of the greatest equations in human history. Was Nobel laureate Richard Feynman really joking when he called Maxwell's electromagnetic equations the most significant event of the nineteenth century? How did Newton's law of gravitation influence young revolutionaries? Why has Euler's formula been...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published January 19th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2008)
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TheIron Paw
An enlightening read for those of interested in mathematics but with limited knowledge. This book is mostly history and philosophy but with a modest amount of math that you can either work through or half bleep over without affecting the author's message too much. More difficult to deal with are some of the concepts that don't fit my day to day understanding of reality. One of the interesting concepts brought forth in the discussion of quantum mechanics is the "anschaulicht" - the property of a...more
Upom
So often our culture forgets science and in our march to progress. Crease even noted that Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present barely mentions science, although mentioning almost every other aspect of a forgotten American history. Sadly, Crease also mentioned a simple rule of thumb publishers use for math in a book: for every math equation added to a popular book for science and readers, the sales of books drop by half. It's for sad reasons like these that I fee...more
Benjaminxjackson
The Great Equations is a science and mathematics book for popular readers, which is its strength and its weakness. The strength is that the text is accessible to just about any reader with some smattering of science and mathematics in their schooling. The weakness is that sometimes I found it a little too basic and too quick to gloss over details and proofs for equations.

One of the interesting things is how the book demonstrates the way science progresses in fits and starts. It also shows how im...more
Ben Babcock
To paraphrase Mr T, I pity the fool who doesn’t see the beauty of mathematics inherent in the world around us. As a teacher, I feel rather complicit at times in robbing children of the joy of mathematics. The systemic, industrial tone of education does not often lend itself well to the investigation and discovery that should be the cornerstone of maths; I find this particularly true in the UK, where standardized tests and levels are the order of the day. There are times when I am conflicted abou...more
Jerad Acosta
Fun, quick, interesting read that gives you an appreciation for the history of a subject so many people fear - and gives you some great cocktail party stories to share about equations everyone knows about.
If you enjoy historical anecdotes of why things are the way they are, or how something was discovered then you will devour this book.
If you respect math and history, you will appreciate these stories - however no talent in either field is required.
This is a great read. The chapters are self con...more
Max
The Great Equations is a great book that explains everything you will ever need to know about maths history and the way it has become the way it is today.

The Great Equations starts from the first equation being 1+1=2 and ends explaining The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Along the way we see Menos' paradox and how Pythagoras had nothing to do with the creation of the Pythagorean theorem (it was invented possibly a thousand years before Pythagoras was born in India). The book explains how eq...more
Garrett Mccutcheon
A fun overview of a handful of important mathematical equations. While the author doesn't go into much depth about the meaning of each equation, he does go into detail about the impact of the equation and why it was important. Any book on this type of subject is going to miss equations that some would believe are important while including some that everyone may not agree should be included; however, Crease does a satisfactory job of justifying why each equation was included. Recommended for anyo...more
Bogdan Gavriliuc
This book was not what I thought it was. I wanted more explanation on the equations
That being said, I am happy I caught this and read it. The history behind the development of each discovery is quite fascinating. The struggles that each scientist goes through is usually so under-exposed.

But that's all it is. It writes the equation for you, tells you how it came about, provides minimal math (I really wish there were more. But I know just find a text book. Still as a reader I wouldn't be turned do...more
Solrax
This is a great book for anyone interested in math or science.

The explanations behind the chosen equations were very clear and helped me to understand both their meaning and significance.

I really enjoyed how the author emphasized that these equations didn't pop onto the page out of nowhere, but were the result of the intellectual struggle of human beings who felt confusion, frustration and joy in attempting to understand and explain physical and mathematical phenomenon.

One of the best general ma...more
Dan Cohen
It's a while since I read this book so this review is from hazy memory. I thought the book was good but it didn't stay long in my memory, which is not a good sign. The theme of equations means that the books covers both mathematical and scientific subjects and the difference between mathematical and scientific equations isn't really discussed or made clear. The sub-title "The hunt for cosmic beauty in numbers" suggests a more mathematical book, but most of the equations are scientific and hence...more
Claudio Saavedra
Interesting journey through not only wonderful equations, but also through what it takes for a significant contribution to science to take form. Many times we look at theorems and laws and just see their scientific meaning but ignore all the hard work, deception, and effort that people have put into them before they get to mean something. This book shows the human side of science and how it influences the direction that science takes. Recommended for anyone interested on a bit of history of phys...more
Mscout
Really intelligent and engaging study of the path to some of the scientific world's most important equations. Crease tells the story not just of the equations and what they mean and do, but also the (sometimes torturous) journey to their discoveries. There is plenty for the reader interested in learning something of the personalities of the discoverers as well. More for the advanced layman, than a general audience; you don't have to understand quantum physics to enjoy the book, but it helps.
Steffi
I'm surprised at how many people complained that this book requires math and physics knowledge. This isn't a math book at all - it's about history. The chapter on Euler is good, because the math is explicit. Otherwise, the purpose of this book is not to explain the math - which would have required many more technical explanations - but to describe the history surrounding the equations. The philosophical discussions are sloppy. I still don't understand E=mc^2.
Raunaq Ahmed
Keeping in mind that Robert Crease is not a mathematician or a physicist, I think he has done a good job writing this book. He starts by illustrating the nature of proof(mathematics) and physical law(physics) and shows really well how these notions developed historically. He keeps in mind the distinction between math and physics throughout the book. I think this is a good popular science book for the non-experts entering the field of theoretical physics.
Sean Hoade
A deeply human exploration of major equations in mathematics and physics. By "deeply human," I mean it shows how these great ideas came to be -- it's not anywhere nearly as cut-and-dried as one might thing. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history and philosophy of mathematics and science.
Pierre Lauzon
As someone without a deep science background, the book was very interesting to me. It provided linkages to great scientific and mathematical insights through history.

I listened to it via audiobook, and believe a reader would be better served by using a text version.

A recommended read.
Kai Pak
A fine look at some of greatest equations in (mostly) physics and mathematics. For a book about equations, it doesn't get too mathematically rigorous, so the untrained can certainly enjoy it and find beauty in these masterpieces of human thought.
Moezur
One definitely needs a background in Math to keep up. While some parts were very entertaining, with regards to the history of equations, other parts that broke down the composition of the formula's themselves really made the book difficult to follow.
Ron
Even for a non-math person such as myself, this was a very interesting book. Crease is a good writer and brings a wide range of expertise to the topic making it understandable for those of us whose math is just basic. I recommend it highly.
Jonathan Grice
Eh, it was okay. I ended up skimming the back half. I really liked the concept behind it but it got dry. It takes a genius to make a dry subject interesting, this guy just doesn't quite have it.
Arvid Tomayko-Peters
fun intro to some, well, great equations. Wish it went more in depth in some stuff. Author's sidebars were very editorialized - some a little silly, but well meaning and interesting to think about.
Jeff
Mar 19, 2014 Jeff added it
Rather repetative - so you have to take some time in between equestions. Crease does a good job and has enlightened me about some of my favorites (e.g Newton's second)
John
By the time I got to Euhler's equation, there was blood oozing from my ears. Crease writes with great passion; all his loving words went right over my head.
Brandon Harrington
My book had several pages out of order and was missing an entire section.
Keith
May 20, 2011 Keith added it
wanted more math and less history. But it was amusing.
Kathrynn
Apr 02, 2010 Kathrynn marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction-math, own
Ordered 4/2/10
Neil
Apr 08, 2010 Neil marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: partly-read
Started mid 2009
Ilib4kids
Sep 23, 2013 Ilib4kids marked it as to-read
509 CRE
Brandy
Brandy marked it as to-read
Sep 16, 2014
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Professor Robert P. Crease is Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, New York.
More about Robert P. Crease...
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