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The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  835 ratings  ·  92 reviews
How did one elegant theory incite a scientific revolution? Physicists have been exploring, debating, and questioning the general theory of relativity ever since Albert Einstein first presented it in 1915. Their work has uncovered a number of the universe’s more surprising secrets, and many believe further wonders remain hidden within the theory’s tangle of equations, waiti ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2014)
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4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  835 ratings  ·  92 reviews


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Cheese
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Fantastic book for those who love science, especially physics.

This book explains how Einstein's theory of general relativity came about, the people that were involved, the people it inspired, the theories it inspired and how it is still used today for some of the most important tasks in modern physics and human exploration.

They say women are bitchy in the work space, but men can be just as bad. A lot of men in the scientific community try to disprove Einstein and Einstein did make some mistake
...more
Todd N
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
(Birthday present to myself, along with The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God because I know how to party!)

I'm going to break this down real simply, so that anyone can understand:

In the 19th century, scientists discovered an anomaly in Mercury's orbit that couldn't be explained by Newtonian physics, so the scientists of the day made up an as yet undiscovered planet (called Vulcan) that made Newton's equations come out just right.

In the 20th century, scientists d
...more
Brian Clegg
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the quote from Marcus du Sautoy on the front referring to this book by astrophysics professor Pedro Ferreira as a ‘guide to the outer reaches of the universe’, this is far more a book about what goes on in human brains – and specifically the development and partial solutions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which turned our understanding of the nature of gravitation upside down.

For me it’s a three bears porridge book. We start off with a section that’s just right, then get a b
...more
Angela
Jun 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
I picked this up randomly because I am a sucker for popular science. In fact for most of high school I was totally going to be a theoretical physicist & read every pop physics I could get my hands on, then gave it up because I thought I was probably not good enough at math.

Fast forward 20 years to when I am not a theoretical physicist, but do have two math degrees and actually studied general relativity in college. I enjoyed this book because it was more about the social (and personal) histo
...more
Charlene
A+

Ferreira's book is possibly the best one I have read to date that focuses on the history of and challenges to the theory of general relativity.

In this book Ferreira gives some of the best explanations of the following subjects:

- Euclidian geometry turned on its head (ie., parallel lines intersect on a sphere)
- Einstein's field equations (how matter is distributed and the implications for an evolving universe)
- The debate over a static v evolving universe (de Sitter, Friedmann, Lemaitre.... ex
...more
Nilesh
Jul 20, 2014 rated it liked it
A 20th century physics book without quantum mechanics is always an ambitious project. The author did well to keep out the QM largely if that was one of the objectives and the resultant exclusive focus on relativity leads to a somewhat different popular science book than what one is used to. That said, the book mysteriously skips any reasonably detailed discussion of the theory itself with almost entire discussions on the stories of its fall and rise.

In a way, most recent books on astronomy or co
...more
Luis
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book will satisfy you innermost curiosity about the current understanding of the universe at large scale, as well as kindle your interest about quantum theory and mechanics.

Being an engineer myself, without any previous formal education on advanced physics or mathematics, P. Ferreira's work motivated me to follow this amazing road towards the understanding of nature.

I suggest you go for it, whatever your background is. No regrets.
Scott Ransom
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an astronomer who works on testing general relativity with pulsars, I found this a great book. And I'll be recommending it to both my non-scientist and scientist friends. It is fun, upbeat, well-written, and a very nice summary of the history of GR and our status with it now. It is also full of nice anecdotes which help to flesh out the (fascinating) famous physicists who have been involved. Definitely recommended.
Javier
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Todo lo que tiene que ver con la Relatividad y sus historias relacionadas me apasiona. Esa es la razón por la cual terminé en este libro. Más que intentar ser una explicación más de la teoría, el libro nos cuenta las historias de los hombres que la han desarrollado y de las diferentes aproximaciones que han hecho. Más que de fórmulas, se centra en las ideas, en los conflictos personales, en la grilla que existe entre las diferentes tribus de científicos. Todo lo que ha generado en el estado actu ...more
Jake Dennie
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Author is a great biographer for a physicist, really helping the reader to get to know the characters involved. Not much of a cohesive story/theme and I didn't get much from most of the stories, but there were enough scattered gems to make it well worth the read. The biggest theme for me is just how stubborn even the most brilliant people can be in privileging their intuition over the evidence. I'll probably never forget that Einstein, along with the vast majority of the physics community, refus ...more
Pavel Kočička
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Velmi přístupně (pro trochu znalé) napsaná historie teorie relativity a následného vědeckého vývoje až do (lehce nejasné) současnosti. Spousta směrů popsaných na jednom místě. Pro příznivce fyziky téměř povinné čtení.
Gene Edwards
Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it
This book brings you up to date regarding the status of relativity. It does so in an easy to comprehend format.
Sarrvesh
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pedro Ferreira presents an interesting overview of the evolution of General Relativity as the theory of Gravity.
Mark Yates
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent recap of the development, transformation, and impact of relativity theory. It is a great companion piece to Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality, by Manjit Kumar, if not quite as well told.

The author's open romanticism to the theory livens the journey from formulation in a patent office to how it describes the edges of the universe (and possibly the multiverse). The rivalries and discoveries could have been a bit more dramatic. The book also suffer
...more
John Jr.
Albert Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1916, so it’s nearly 100 years old. In this clean and clear account for the interested layman, Pedro G. Ferreira presents what could be called a biography of the theory: its family, so to speak, and the environment into which it was born; the sensation surrounding its early years; a relatively quiet spell, in which it was to some degree ignored; and then a long period of tumult, in which unresolved conflicts that had been present all ...more
Johannes Solano
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the first popular science book I ever read back when I was 15. Professor Ferreira might not have the same authority or popularity of other high profile physicists like Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Sean M. Carroll, Roger Penrose, etc. but his book detailing the history and development of general theory of relativity, a little of quantum mechanics and some basic theories of cosmology in the 20th century is well written.
It is very accessible, lucid and pedagogical. If you want to learn ab
...more
João Pires
Dec 25, 2014 rated it liked it
If we could say that general relativity has a biography, this book is that biography.

It tells us the reasons why the Newstons gravity theory needed to be replace, how Einstein created it, and the myriad of people that through all the years have been working on General Relativity. Either evolving it or taking it to its limits.

Another bonus is that this book don't have a single equation, no maths, nothing to much advanced, so anyone can read it.

Fun fact, the author is Portuguese, but the book was
...more
Neil Hunt
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pedro reviews the history and scientists involved in the progression from special relativity (the laws of physics are the same in all inertial frames of reference) to general relativity (the laws of physics are the same in any frames of reference). This theory was motivated by variances in the observations from the Newtonian predictions of the precession of the orbit of Mercury, and GR explains the observations perfectly.

The book introduces quantum theory and the standard model which unifies EM,
...more
Lara Thompson
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technical
Amazing book! He writes very clearly and infuses even the most basic ideas with childlike enthusiasm. Given that most reviews seem only to wish he'd included yet more physics, I have to say he included just the right amount really: he names the theories and techniques (some for the layman physicists write down and obscure the details making it hard to follow up if you're keen to). I hope he publishes as revised edition to include the latest from LIGO, the coincident gravity/EM waves measured jus ...more
Nathan Glenn
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a really neat look into the world of theoretical physics for the layman. The author tells the story of the development of special and general relativity, describes the major figures of physics in the last century (Einstein, Oppenheimer), and helps the reader understand the amazing power and beauty of relativity. It's also a great history of modern astronomy, since relativity has helped scientists discover exotic states of reality in outer space for the past 50 years, including black hol ...more
Michael P. LaTronica
Excellent Writing and Fun to Read

The author's style is fantastic, evocative but easily accessible. No higher order mathematics to get bogged down in, yet thoroughly informative. I particularly enjoyed the slight tangents into "failed" theories and experiments that are humorous and witty, and develop the characters within the overarching narrative.
John Gribbin
Apr 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Adapted from the Literary Review:

The Perfect Theory
Pedro Ferreira
Little, Brown pp 288 £20.00

John Gribbin

Next year sees the centenary of Albert Einstein’s discovery of the general theory of relativity, and Pedro Ferreira has got in early with his contribution to the commemorations. Rather than focusing on the events of 1915, however, he concentrates on the story of the development of the general theory since then, and in particular over the past 50 years, when it blossomed into full flower. All t
...more
Marcin
Aug 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Czytając tą książkę można odnieść wrażenie, ze najważniejszym odkryciem OTW są czarne dziury, którym poświęcono około połowy tej książki. Inne dziedziny dla których ta teoria jest ważną są opisane skrótowo lub wcale. Zbyt wiele miejsca poświęcono też zdyskredytowanym teoriom czy obserwacjom, praktycznie pomijając przy tym dokonania Dickego czy Gamowa.
Gdyby nie to byłaby to bardzo dobra książka, gdyż jest dobrze napisana i autor zbytnio nie przynudza.
Lisa
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
It turns out that this is a self-proclaimed biography of the theory of relativity. If that's what you're looking for, Bodanis' book is the one to read in my opinion. This was still interesting, though more heavily tilted toward the evolution of the mathematics and experimentation rather than to the people involved.
Dan Kalbasi
Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
It’s a great introduction to the physic theories and recent discoveries.

However, It is lack of brief formula and sometimes relevant pictures. It is definitely interesting to see the result of this mathematical magic which usually they summarise in a short formula.
Bonnie Long
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
wonderful read -- accessible to even the non-scientist. An exciting plot with lots of intrigue.
Cambrone
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, books-i-own
One of the most enjoyable popular science books I read in a long time.
Felipe Hoff
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book to understand the development one of the most amazing ideas of the 20th century.

Is a must ready for every one that have interest for science!
Tom Menke
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
excellent
Jack Jacobson
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best book I've read on general relativity.
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine book and author 2 12 May 11, 2017 06:54PM  
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PEDRO G. FERREIRA is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford. An expert in cosmology, the early universe and general relativity, he writes frequently for trade and academic science publications and is a regular commentator for the BBC.
“You know, once you start calculating you shit yourself up before you know it.” 0 likes
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