In his introduction to A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking recalls that he was advised that, "each equation I included in the book would halve the sales". Einstein's E=mc2 excepted, he heeded the advice and his book duly sold 9m copies and counting. Would it have been substantially less difficult for the layperson to understand had he included more equations? I doubt it. And though the language of mathematics can seem so esoteric and daunting, once explained, it offers many riches.
The central tenet of Farmelo's book is that: "The great equations are just as rich a stimulus as poetry to the prepared imagination." And, using this metaphor of equations as poetry, it hopes to perform the equivalent of literary criticism on 11 of, as the subtitle has it, the great equations of modern science. The metaphor is fairly robust: great poems and equations both express fundamental truths in the most concise form. Each has a formal elegance - an equation, after all, is an expression of perfect balance. And close readings of each can reveal further meanings that are often quite independent of the author's intentions.
But there are as many differences. Despite the directives issued by Einstein and Paul Dirac, which Farmelo has adapted for his title, that the fundamental equations of physics should be aesthetically pleasing, equations must above all agree with experiment. And: "Science is littered with the remains of theories that were once perceived as beautiful but turned out to be wrong - not what nature had in mind. …