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The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson
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's review
Aug 23, 2008

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Read in August, 2008

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 them as absurd straw men. The author provides a much more nuanced explanation of many of these theories that exposes their internal consistency, and why they were plausible explanations for known phenomena until further experiments invalidated them. The book is at its best when discussing the intellectual and social environment in which the experimenters operated, and weakest when discussing the experiments themselves. Unfortunately, as the authors says early in the book, the intent was to write primarily about the apparatus and experimental design. In that area, I found the writing, especially in later chapters, covered the experimental design and the significance of the results somewhat superficially.

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