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The Ascent of Gravity: The Quest to Understand the Force that Explains Everything

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  359 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Gravity is the weakest force in the everyday world yet it is the strongest force in the universe. It was the first force to be recognized and described yet it is the least understood. It is a "force" that keeps your feet on the ground yet no such force actually exists.

Gravity, to steal the words of Winston Churchill, is "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." A
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 7th 2017 by Pegasus Books
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4.02  · 
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 ·  359 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-shelf, science
This is a highly entertaining history of gravity, full of quite interesting anecdotes and the gradual unfolding of our understanding from Newton through Einstein through our quest to reconcile quantum mechanics with the one aspect we're most familiar with but which we understand the least.

From the first page to the last I was enraptured. It's a tour of the inverse square law, the connection between electromagnetism, light, and matter, right down to the physics that keep most theoreticians up lat
Brian Clegg
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marcus Chown is one of the UK's best writers on physics and astronomy - it's excellent to see him back on what he does best. Here we discover our gradual approach to understanding the nature of gravity - the 'ascent' of the title - which, though perhaps slightly overblown in the words 'the force that explains everything' (quantum physics does quite a lot too, for example), certainly makes us aware of the importance of this weakest of fundamental forces. Chown's approach to gravity is a game of t ...more
As the story goes, in 1666 Isaac Newton watched an apple fall from a tree, and it was this simple action that gave him the inspiration to develop the theory and the mathematics that was first published in 1687 in Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) where he laid out the foundations of classical mechanics. These new laws meant that for the first time people could track the progress of the planets across the night sky, and Halley used the law ...more
Victoria Ray
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a review but some kind of essay (based on the book)...

Gravitational waves are bombarding The Earth from all sides at all times. But you don’t know about it. Or maybe you know, but don’t care. Or simply – do not feel it. More likely.

Ray is going to ask you to stop for a moment today, and listen.

What can I say, folks…the book ‘The Ascent Of Gravity’ is FASCINATING! It is also The Science Book of the Year 2017. I picked it only because this is the book about ‘Gravity’. I believe if we’ll unde
John Gribbin
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I did a double review of two books for the Wall Street Journal, so posting it under both titles!

The Ascent of Gravity
Marcus Chown
On Gravity
A. Zee

Gravity has become a hot topic in science, with the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space coming from colliding black holes and neutron stars. Both The Ascent of Gravity and On Gravity mention those discoveries, but neither book focuses on them. Rather, they provide the background to our understanding of this f
John Kaye
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Not the first time I've read through to the end of a Marcus Chown and realised that, though there are some good stories and some nice linking of events and people, I'm not much better educated about the subject matter than when I started. Perhaps I should stop reading the author!
David Wineberg
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Ascent of Gravity is a treat. It tells the story of what we know about gravity, based on the two biggest investigators of it. Marcus Chown has written a lively, engaging and often funny history of the most basic of scientific puzzles, one we still don’t have a handle on.

The book divides into two eras: Newton’s and Einstein’s. They both changed civilization forever with profound, non-intuitive, dramatic and elegant solutions. Newton’s challenge was overcoming entrenched superstition. Einstei
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From Newton to Einstein to the present theories of cosmology. Chown takes us through a universe which shows itself to be a dichotomy of truths. Everyone knows that gravity is an attractive force..right? Well it appears that it also has a dark side which is helping the universe to expand and which may lead to a deeper theory of the universe. This is a great book for those like me who looked into space (pun intended) with glazed eyes in physics. For the first time i was engaged reading this book. ...more
Dan Graser
Jan 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Gravity is one of those concepts everyone thinks they understand, only occasionally discovering that their notions of gravity are identical to those held in the time of Newton. Curiously enough, just as in every other area of scientific inquiry, there have been significant new discoveries and developments in our understanding of this force on huge and infinitesimally small scales.

Where this book succeeds is in providing the curious reader with a context to understand the current ways gravity is
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great description of the science/effects of classical gravity (tides, effects on planetary orbits, etc.) and the gravity of special relativity (slowing time, bending light, etc.) And it has a great chapter on the required properties of any theory that can unite special relativity and quantum theory.
VIctor Tanasa
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Physicists scrawl arcane mathematical equations across blackboards but it is an enormous leap of faith to believe that nature really obeys these equations. It invariably comes at a massive shock when it turns out that nature really does."

Part biography, part physics lesson and part speculation about the future of this discipline.

As I knew the matters discussed in this book mostly superficially, it was really helpful for me, as it shows not only the conclusions but how they were reached. It also
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This title is a bit misleading, because it seems to bit off and chew on quite a bit more than just gravity. It's a nice brief overview of the both the history and the current state of discoveries and thinking about large (and small)-scale physics, from Newton and his apple through quantum physics and string theory. I can't pretend to understand much of what was going on, and I got a bit lost toward the end. But it's a good overview.

It might have been aided by some illustrations or tables to help
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Chown writes about the most brilliant minds in science, especially Newton and Einstein. Those early sections of the book were interesting, reading about who these individuals were, and how they came to the discoveries they made.
The later sections, getting into string theory, quantum mechanics, Maxwell's equations, etc., went beyond my interest and comprehension levels, leaving me feeling like I did after reading a couple of Stephen Hawking's "simple" books about understanding the universe, tryi
May 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
The irreverent and informal writing style is grating and doesn't contribute anything (with the bizarre biographical vignettes being the worst). Concentrates on Newton and then rushes through modern physics in a couple of pages.
Douglas Lord
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Growing up in rural Connecticut presented some difficulties, namely, finding anything to do. Reading proved a dependable pastime and mostly I scrounged through whatever books were left laying around by my six older siblings. The Caine Mutiny, comic books, The Oxford Companion to American History, and lots of Isaac Asimov’s science titles. Like Asimov’s books, Chown’s title is wild—informative, intelligent, and blessedly clear. It does for gravity what Robert Penn did for wood in The Man Who Made ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Probably deserves 3 stars, but I listened to the audiobook, in which the narrator perpetrates some truly horrific accent work. (And the book contains a lot of quotations, so this isn't as much of a quibble as it sounds.) I don't know whether narrators choose whether to do accents or are simply instructed to, but after this and The Tangled Tree, I think I need to start a 'just use your normal voice' campaign. I suppose accents might seem like a good idea in fiction, where there's a decent argumen ...more
Andrew Imrie
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Well, I understand gravity a bit better - but not massively. I was expecting a clear explanation of gravity - one that would allow me to finally get to grips with something that has long interested me - but instead got more of the story of our understanding of gravity from Newton to the present day - with diversions on points of interest, such as how gravity affects other worlds in the solar system. Interesting enough, but not quite what I wanted. A big downside to the book is the lack of any gr ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book will blow your mind as it tries to explain gravity, quantum physics and associated ideas to the common person. It does a pretty job of it. Any failure is in my lack of understanding. It isn't full of equation that make no sense to the layperson but with analogies and real world explanations make sense of the unexplainable (and yes some of it is unexplainable even to the physicists). In this world of black holes and quarks what is impossible on our level of reality is possible and even ...more
Deepak Saxena
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Since the book is written in 2017, it has an advantage of being definite about gravitational waves. It gives the book a promising start and defines its central focus on gravity. It is divided into three parts - first one dealing with classical gravity (aka Newton), second one with space-time (aka Einstein), and the final one on possible future. The book is filled with anecdotes and interesting implications of theories under consideration (although the author 'imagining' some life events of Einst ...more
Joseph Williams
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The only downside of this book was the reader (I listened to the audio). When she kept her natural British accent she was fine, but whenever she switched to accents when quoting Einstein (German) or American accents, she sounded ridiculous; that was distracting. Her American accent sounded like all her American scientists were from New York. Argh.


A very accessible popular science book on gravity and the history of the science behind it ending with the unanswered questions still be explo
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-shelf, 2018
I really enjoyed this read. The first two sections (Newton and Einstein) were really clear and written with humour and I enjoyed the historical context given, but none of it was at the expense of glossing over the science which I really appreciated. It also didn't shy away from discussing maths whilst not overwhelming the matter by including full derivations or anything. The third section was really really dense and complex - but that's the nature of quantum mechanics and I was really impressed ...more
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
In part I, the author explains simple things pretty well, as a Phd in physics, I also learned a thing or two. Then in part 2, he explains things too simple. As far as the part 3, it is a little bit awkward. I got a feeling he trusts Nima too much... Well, I admit I agree with most of what Nima has said. However, this is a popular science book for everyone, you have to interpretate what you heard using your own language and help ordinary people digest those profound ideas using your own examples.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some concepts required further reading, but otherwise, this is a splendid book that presents a perceptive view into what gravity really is. Highly recommended to anyone who is curious about the major developments and seeking basic explanations regarding this topic - from Newton to Einstein to the development of Quantum Mechanics, the language is easy to grasp and scientific jargon is explained clearly when used.
Stephen Dawson
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
The scope is at times rather broader than just gravity, but it's an entertaining and largely pretty accessible account of the history of our understanding. There was a little dumbing-down early on, and a risk of getting bogged down in the details of string theory in the final chapter, but overall the subject was well negotiated and managed to amuse as well as inform.
ian arundel
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great one-stop-shop for all matters gravitational. Seems that a lot of the physics that I was taught in the sixties, seventies and eighties (which I seldom had need to apply) turns-out to have been dodgy! Very helpful to have a readable and entertaining update.
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Audiobook. Read well apart from terrible accents for all quotations.

The book itself is a really interesting and engaging summary of Newton and Einstein’s discovery. After that it gets a little esoteric and no real effort is made to make sense of the physics for the reader/listener.
Graham Bradley
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Marking this as read for now, though I haven't finished it. It's too heavy (hey-oh!) for listening in the truck at work. Definitely going to buy a print copy and start over sometime, there is a ton of cool stuff in here. The universe is crazy, you guys.
Brian Hamel
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book takes extremely difficult concept of physics and makes them remarkably simple to understand for a layperson like myself. My complete view of the universe has been shattered in a few hundred pages.
Fred P
Feb 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Good, solid story about gravity, with some quantum mechanics and cosmological problems thrown in. It doesn't electrify the reader - and was not a page-turner. The story of Einstein is compelling though. Also the modern cosmology questions are covered briefly, which make it timely.
Dan Cohen
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it

Very good book, written in a light and easy style but containing lots of information and insight.
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Marcus Chown is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. Formerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he is currently cosmology consultant of the weekly science magazine New Scientist. He is the author of the bestselling Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, The Never Ending Days of Being Dead and The Magic Furnace. He also wrote The Solar System, the bestselling ap ...more
“In a galaxy far, far away, at a time when the Earth hosted nothing bigger than a simple bacterium, two monster black holes, locked in a death-spiral, swung around each other one last time. As they kissed and coalesced, three whole solar masses vanished, reappearing instantly as a tsunami of a warped space-time, which raced outwards at the speed of light. For an instant its power was fifty times greater than that of all the stars in the Universe put together.” 0 likes
“Now, at the outset of the twenty-first century, we stand on the verge of a new revolution. The search for a deeper theory than Einstein’s – a quantum theory of gravity – is the greatest endeavour ever embarked upon by physics. Already, there are tantalising glimpses of a new world view.” 0 likes
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