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The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  297 Ratings  ·  36 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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Aug 26, 2015 Augusto rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Livro fraco escrito num tom pra lá de "deslumbrado". Um interlúdio cientificista que meio que espezinha as ciências sociais, em especial a história, beira o mau gosto e só piorou as coisas.
Jun Wen
Reading this book as a chemical engineer, I probably had an easier time than most, being already familiar with the laws of motion, gravity and thermodynamics.

Even then, it was not a book that could be breezed through easily, despite its short length. This was especially so towards the end of the book as it moved away from classical physics, and in the final two chapters I felt severely out of my depth.

Its difficulty notwithstanding, this is a well written book that summarizes the progress of hu
TheIron Paw
Jan 17, 2010 TheIron Paw rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Sep 13, 2011 Benjaminxjackson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 08, 2013 Jerad Acosta rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 07, 2010 Max rated it liked it
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
Apr 02, 2015 Sambasivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simple beautiful equations. History of each told in an engaging style. The author camouflages the huge industry and his erudition on the subject with his quest for simplification. Outstanding effort.
Garrett Mccutcheon
Sep 06, 2013 Garrett Mccutcheon rated it really liked it
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
João Victor
Mar 19, 2016 João Victor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Um bom livro. O autor preocupou-se em explorar as contribuições anteriores a cada uma das equações. Esse misto de história e matemática torna a leitura agradável.
Bill Yates
Aug 12, 2015 Bill Yates rated it really liked it
This book was good to read, and I enjoyed it. The historical development of the great equations was very well presented. My only criticism is that some of the author's commentary was poorly composed, and I found my mind wandering.
Bogdan Gavriliuc
Aug 23, 2012 Bogdan Gavriliuc rated it liked it
Shelves: science
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
Mar 03, 2014 Solrax rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 14, 2010 Claudio Saavedra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
May 18, 2016 Paul rated it liked it
mathematical story telling
Oct 21, 2012 Mscout rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 11, 2011 Steffi rated it it was ok
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
Apr 17, 2011 Raunaq Ahmed rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 20, 2013 Malik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest of Mathamatics or Physics
This was definitely a brilliant read. Crease's passion towards Mathematics and Physics permeates the pages and is quite infectious. Although some of the more complicated explanations of the equation were difficult to wrap my head around, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It's very informative and will provided you with the interesting history behind a few of the greatest equations in our history.

Sean Hoade
Aug 26, 2012 Sean Hoade rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 18, 2013 Pierre Lauzon rated it liked it
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
Aug 09, 2012 Kai Pak rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 16, 2010 Moezur rated it did not like it
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.
Sep 22, 2009 Ron rated it really liked it
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
Apr 09, 2012 Jonathan Grice rated it liked it
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
Aug 31, 2011 Arvid Tomayko-Peters rated it really liked it
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.
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)
Brandon Harrington
Jun 10, 2011 Brandon Harrington rated it it was ok
My book had several pages out of order and was missing an entire section.
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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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“In the ancient and medieval world, the exploration of physical influences among heavenly bodies, and between the heavenly bodies and objects on earth, was generally called ‘astrology.’ But we must not confuse this with the current socially acceptable form of bigotry that seems to entitle the human beings who believe in it to prejudge the character of others based solely on their dates of birth.” 1 likes
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