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Boltzmanns Atom: The Great Debate That Launched a Revolution in Physics

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  88 ratings  ·  10 reviews
In 1900 many eminent scientists did not believe atoms existed, yet within just a few years the atomic century launched into history with an astonishing string of breakthroughs in physics that began with Albert Einstein and continues to this day. Before this explosive growth into the modern age took place, an all-but-forgotten genius strove for forty years to win acceptance ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 18th 2001 by Free Press
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Arvind Balasundaram
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written biography of the tragic life of the brilliant scientist, Ludwig Boltzmann. Lindley paints a very intimate portrait of the scientist from within, rather than without, providing the reader with a close-up view of the peaks and ebbs of Boltzmann's checkered career and personal life.

The author provides a cogent review of Boltzmann's contributions to thermodynamics, especially the development of kinetic theory. Most significantly, Boltzmann introduced a probabilistic interpret
...more
Roy White
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Strange to see how persistent the opposition to atomic theory was, and how people like Mach turned into a sort of philosophy, not allowing physics to talk about anything that could not be dobserved directly. Also interesting how hard it was to assimilate the use of statistics to understand the behavior of large numbers of atoms. It's always worth being reminded how the most obvious ideas once seemed threatening.
George Dimitrov
Mar 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Good introduction of a time when 'atom' was a questionable entity, scientists were larger than life, Europe was at peace. It was nice to learn some personal information about people who's names we now associate only with constants, theories and scientific units.
dejah_thoris
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I think I liked Uncertainty more but I felt like I had to read this one because he refers to it so often in his later book. Again it's interesting to see how scientists' personalities influence their research but I found this one a little drier than his other book.
M
Aug 10, 2013 added it
Too much biography, not enough science. In fact, hardly any science. "Atom" is prominent in the title but very little in this book about what he did or discovered or why it was important.
Mark Stidham
Jun 05, 2020 rated it liked it
This surprising history shows a perhaps forgotten era that set the stage for the early twentieth century revolution in physics, namely relativity and quantum mechanics. Prior to reading this account, I had imagined the work of Avogadro, Dalton, Mendeleev, and others had established atoms as facts. This book gives some detailed history mostly around Boltzmann showing how atomic theory was still controversial and not universally accepted. It was Boltzmann's dual skills in mathematics and physics t ...more
Ed
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written for a 'general audience,' this book gives the reader a lucid rendering of the issues physicists were debating in the late nineteenth century. The central issue of whether atoms existed or were merely useful fictions for calculating the behavior of gases is presented in its historical context, which takes some effort on the part of a twenty first century reader to get his mind back to the way people thought before the discovery of x-rays etc. The book's virtue is that it carried me back i ...more
Rhiannon Bacon
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Entertaining biographies about the famous political characters of history are often written, yet stories about the people behind the science are rare. Science does not exist in a vacuum any more than any other enterprise of the human creature. This book introduces us to some of the great thinkers of modern physics in their day to day lives, including the political revolutions going on in Europe approaching the first World War, as well as the personal emotional frailties and bickering amongst the ...more
Metin Ozsavran
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book from a great science writer. Who seems to be a little jealous if his subject matter character. :)
Regan
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Currently, I am on page 40. The whole of physics or life of Boltzmann described till this page can be written down in 4 or 5 pages. The rest is all about history of Vienna or history of ancient times. Let's see what's coming.

I have now completed the book. The book is wonderful. It has combination of both physics and history. Increased rating by 1 star.
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David Lindley is a theoretical physicist and author. He holds a B.A. in theoretical physics from Cambridge University and a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Sussex. Then he was a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge University.

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