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The Prism and the Pendulum: The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments in Science

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  100 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews
Is science beautiful? Yes, argues acclaimed philosopher and historian of science Robert P. Crease in this engaging exploration of history’s most beautiful experiments. The result is an engrossing journey through nearly 2,500 years of scientific innovation. Along the way, we encounter glimpses into the personalities and creative thinking of some of the field’s most interest ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2003)
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Jun 10, 2013 Spencer rated it liked it
A very quick read, with some chapters clearer and more fascinating than others. Much of the highlights were the biographies of the scientists themselves--Galileo, Newton, Young, Rutherford, and especially Henry Cavendish, who needs his own biopic, stat. Each experiment is separated by short 'Interludes' on various topics concerning science and philosophy that are surprisingly successful, and nowhere near as redundant or pat as they could have been. You'll probably want the internet handy, though ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Britt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, science
The most beautiful experiments in science are all physics and astronomy experiments! Coincidence? I think not! :)

As a physicist, I enjoyed the book very much, though I can't comment on how accessible it would be to the layman. This book would make a great basis for an undergraduate course for physics majors or for non-majors, as many of the experiments could be easily reproduced in the classroom, and they raise a lot of important issues about the nature of science, of experiment, and of reality.
Aug 16, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, science
An excellent book, it effectively uses the ten experiments to illustrate a set of broader ideas in the philosophy of science through a series of interludes. In this way it dried to draw a broader set of lessons than George Johnson's "The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments." And to tell less of a human story than Johnson's book.

It is remarkable that two books that share a title/subtitle had so few overlapping experiments. Maybe they both should have dropped the adjective "most," resting only on the u
Sep 27, 2014 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I only stuck with The Prism and the Pendulum out of persistence, and not wanting to give up on a book before it was finished. I still question if that was a good idea.

The author asks, "Can a science experiment be beautiful? And if the answer is 'Yes', what does that say about science? What does that say about beauty?" This isn't just an introduction. He was serious about attempting to answer these boring questions. So, between chapters describing the experiments, there were essays that further e
Booknerd Fraser
Nov 07, 2010 Booknerd Fraser rated it it was ok
The chief problem with this book is that it was written by a philosopher, not a scientist, and I'm not sure he understands the concept of "elegance" in science, viz. "beauty", and in "Interludes" brings in all sorts of (IMHO) unneeded philosophical content. Also, not being a native scientist, some of his explanations are strained. Furthermore, the book was conceived after a poll at a physics magazine the author writes for, so the entries are all physics experiments.
Jul 09, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it
I liked reading this book. It took me a long time to get through it, the science is understandable for a lay-person, but very dense. I was a little disappointed that almost all the experiments were physics experiments. But they were all very important experiments about the world we live in, so I can live with it. Overall, a very good book.
Lucas Miller
Oct 06, 2011 Lucas Miller rated it it was amazing
Incredible writing and thinking by Mr. Crease. Highly impressed with this short book that will be of interest to those who like to think about science in our lives and societies and/or the history of science. As I'm one that seldom gives 5 stars I will clarify that they mean "I love it" rather than "a classic."
Bill Yates
Dec 05, 2015 Bill Yates rated it really liked it
The historical chapters were 5 star, but the interludes were dense and rather dull. It would have been better to add a couple more experiments, and delete the interludes. Descriptions of the experiments were fascinating; arguments about "beauty" were not.
Sep 23, 2008 Tiffany rated it really liked it
This book was spot-on for my Scientific Thinking class. I especially enjoyed the Eratosthenes/Newton/Cavendish chapters. Why do these "Beautiful Experiments" books (George Johnson wrote another) neglect Biology so shamefully? We deserve our own book!
Vance J.
May 30, 2015 Vance J. rated it it was amazing
Very nicely done book on how science is done, examined through the lens of 10 classic (elegant and beautiful) experiments. Would make a nice text for high school science students looking for inspiration and something more challenging.
Miroslav Nekazvam
Sep 20, 2014 Miroslav Nekazvam rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in science. Explains simply the history of some of the cleverest ideas in science
Chizu Nakamura
Apr 30, 2012 Chizu Nakamura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science

I learn a lot from this book not only about history of science but also the art of experiments.
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Professor Robert P. Crease is Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Stony Brook University, New York.
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