Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking

By William H. Cropper | Go to book overview
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Preface

This book tells about lives in science, specifically the lives of thirty from the pantheon of physics. Some of the names are familiar (Newton, Einstein, Curie, Heisenberg, Bohr), while others may not be (Clausius, Gibbs, Meitner, Dirac, Chandrasekhar). All were, or are, extraordinary human beings, at least as fascinating as their subjects. The short biographies in the book tell the stories of both the people and their physics.

The chapters are varied in format and length, depending on the (sometimes skimpy) biographical material available. Some chapters are equipped with short sections (entitled “Lessons”) containing background information on topics in mathematics, physics, and chemistry for the uninformed reader.

Conventional wisdom holds that general readers are frightened of mathematical equations. I have not taken that advice, and have included equations in some of the chapters. Mathematical equations express the language of physics: you can't get the message without learning something about the language. That should be possible if you have a rudimentary (high school) knowledge of algebra, and, if required, you pay attention to the “Lessons” sections. The glossary and chronology may also prove helpful. For more biographical material, consult the works cited in the “Invitation to More Reading” section.

No claim is made that this is a comprehensive or scholarly study; it is intended as recreational reading for scientists and students of science (formal or informal). My modest hope is that you will read these chapters casually and for entertainment, and learn the lesson that science is, after all, a human endeavor.

William H. Cropper

-ix-

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