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The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,115 ratings  ·  169 reviews
From the acclaimed New York Times science writer George Johnson, an irresistible book on the ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science—moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply.

Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 8th 2008 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2008)
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In the author's preamble to The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, I was slightly alarmed to see Cormac McCarthy thanked for his help composing the manuscript of this scientific history. Presumably this is a different Cormac McCarthy, but one does wonder.
JOHNSON: Now then, Cormac, where were we. Chapter Eight; new paragraph. Quote: ‘Edward Morley, a chemist at neighboring Western Reserve University, was as meticulous a scientist as Michelson. The two men agreed that it would be pointless to make an
Brad Lyerla
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Johnson could have just as easily, and accurately, called this book THE TEN COOLEST EXPERIMENTS. It is undeniably cool how the famous scientists featured here figured out ways to isolate and test the variables that interested them. Johnson tells the story of each experiment clearly and without unneeded elaboration. Even though these are familiar stories from high school science, Johnson manages to convey a genuine sense of "gee whiz, how did he figure to do that” that makes his book fun.

I would have liked The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments more if I'd read it as part of a class, where my instructors demonstrated the experiments and talked their way through them. I wanted to see, to feel, to smell. As it was, I often felt that I missed the details of most of the stories told here. I certainly couldn't have replicated that research based on George Johnson's descriptions or the drawings included, most of which were from the original researchers, as with this one from Sir Isaac New ...more
Jason Furman
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
The table of contents was not promising. The book promises the ten "most" beautiful experiments but doesn't have Rutherford discovering the nucleus? But it does have Galvani chopping up frogs to find out if they transmit electricity.

But as I read, I came to appreciate Johnson's idiosyncratic selections. Rather than reading the Nth treatment of classic experiments, he presents some very interesting and well-told vignettes. Especially of Galvani and the frogs. And Pavlov, who turns out to have lov
Lubinka Dimitrova
In hindsight, not a book well suited for audio. Apart from that, I was not particularly impressed with the experiments the author chose to present, and at some points I found the writing too technical for the lay audience it seems to be targeted at. The trivia tidbits though were quite interesting.
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
It has been said that the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. That's a great line. I'm not sure but it seems to me that ignorance and the illusion of knowledge are one and the same. A great example of this is when J. J. Thomson said he found an electrically charged particle with an independent existence inside of an atom. People had trouble accepting electrons. After all, the word atom means uncuttable.

Experimental science began less than 400 years ago wi
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An engaging look at ten milestones in the history of science.
Nik Perring
Jan 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Probably wasted on this unscientific mind of mine, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who's interested in things. Well written, easy to understand, and interesting.
Karl Rove
Aug 03, 2011 added it
Shelves: read-in-2010
New York Times science writes tells of ten unique, powerful experiments whose outcome revealed big secrets and brought about major changes in what we know and how we live.
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While visiting Santa Fe, I picked up this book in Collected Works, an excellent little bookshop off of Santa Fe's main square. At the time, I was in the process of reading Lisa Jardine's excellent "Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution." While I have as a rule avoided reading two or more books simultaneously in recent years, I felt this volume to possess enough overlap with Jardine's book as to make it less difficult to make the segue.

This is a fun little book that illustrates
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though I disagree with some of the choices, I enjoyed this book very much. The writing style is easy to read and understand, and I liked it until the last chapter, in which the author suddenly injects himself into the previously all third-person narrative. I did find the chapters involving vivisection and animal experimentation hard to read and, while the experiments themselves were elegant, the way animals were used makes them pretty ugly. If you are a lover of dogs or frogs you may want to ski ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, tds_tcr
I used to be smart. Now, apparently, not so much. I don't know if it's because I'm not smart anymore, or because I was reading this in places where I couldn't concentrate on it as much as I should have, but a lot of it went over my head. I have a feeling that if I were still smart (*cry*) I would have understood more. I got the gist of the descriptions of all of the experiments, though, just not necessarily the details.
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too much technical jargon. Johnson does not take the time and space needed to describe the experiments thoroughly and show why they're beautiful. Each chapter needs to be about 3 times as long, or at least better explained. Also, heavily physics-focused, and there are so many experiments in biology that are just as beautiful, if not more.
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is a strange book. I want very much to like it, but the writing and subject matter is so uneven in some places that I can't quite bring myself to rate it higher than 'It was ok'. Allow me to explain why.

Let me start with the last chapter for if the entire book had been like this, it would have been far better. Here Johnson repeats Millikan's experiment, giving firsthand information on what the experiment was like. He mixes his own narration with the story of Millikan, making sure to link th
Oct 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is exactly what the title says--the ten most beautiful experiments as reckoned by the author, a science reporter for the New York Times among other publications. To clarify beautiful, his meaning is experiments that were performed by small groups or individuals rather that committees (the author points out the paper announcing the discovery of top quarks had over 400 contributors) and motivated by insatiable curiosity rather than economics.

With that in mind the author's list is as follows:
David Schwan
Some of the experiments in this book I was quite aware of, some not so much. For me the most interesting experiments had to do with thermodynamics. I had studied thermodynamics in college but when you study it nothing is really put in context (atomic and nuclear physics tend to be taught in part from an historical perspective). I had not really been exposed to the history of thermodynamics before and thus those experiments made more sense with their history explained. The first experiment was fr ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people wishing to recreate classic physics experiments
The writing was fairly technical, so I'm not sure if this book will work for the popular audience Johnson seems to want. Johnson didn't give much context or analysis about the implications of these experiments, which I would have found more enlightening than precise descriptions of exactly how the experiments were carried out. His choices are also very heavy on physics and experimentation on animals, neither of which are particular favorites of mine.
Apr 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math-science
Very short vignettes of important discoveries in early science and the history behind the science. Written for the non-scientist, it is easy to read and a great piece of history.
Berry Muhl
Feb 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A pretty nice distillation of a handful of noteworthy scientific experiments down to their essences, by way of introducing the non-scientist to science as it is (a set of processes for discovering the universe's truths, rather than the dusty tome of facts that most people think of at hearing the word "science").

I take exception to the author's selections, but he points out that he expects people to do just that. Some of the "experiments" he describes aren't single experiments at all, but longer
Megan Lawson
Not too shabby. This was the kind of book that told me more detail regarding the background of a number of things in science that I already knew. So, for that reason, I would recommend it to someone who wants to learn a little bit more about 10 pretty cool experiments. I don't know if I'd agree that they were the most beautiful (which Johnson fully acknowledges) and I don't know if the writing is always very great but it is interesting. I think this the sort of book you use as a jumping off poin ...more
Genetic Cuckoo
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book is a fascinating quick read covering large branches of science, and makes me want to read more popular science books on physics. The list of 10 is very subjective in its nature, but this is acknowledged in the introduction. I found the author’s passion and interest in these beautiful experiments helps the book flow, including his search to replicate these experiments and collect these beautiful instruments.
I think this is an interested book for an audience with a more general science
Andrew Blok
Oct 17, 2016 rated it liked it
This book was interesting. I know a bit more about famous, important experiments than I did before I started. I read a few stories that were pretty interesting, but this book didn't make me wonder like the title and cover made me thought I would. Most likely responsible is my own understanding of science, but, while I understood the importance of every experiment and the way it broke new scientific ground, I wasn't often struck by the beauty of the experiment itself. The progress made in our und ...more
Thor Kamphefner
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Got bored about halfway through, but I liked some of the profiles, especially that on Lavosier. The Newton one seemed a little funny, but it was interesting how the old gods of science yoked their way through the entrenched misunderstandings of their day.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Book

Johnson has created a masterpiece that dryly describes ten beautiful experiments. His greatest achievement with this work is focusing on the beauty of the experiment, not the experimenter.
Rick Jones
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A nice little book about ten really interesting minds at work. The experiments were explained well, and the lives of the scientists were touched upon in meaningful ways.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Honestly, read The Canon by Natalie Angier instead.
Susan Alcala
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2019
Most of the science was over my head, but the premise was fun to read. The writing was clear and concise.
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
One word = beautiful
Ami Iida
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: physics
the famous experiments in physics
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George Johnson (born January 20, 1952) is an American journalist and science writer. He is the author of a number of books, including The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (2008) and Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999), and writes for a number of publications, including

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