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Einstein’s Refrigerator [A Matter of Degrees] – Gino Segre *****

Not to be confused with Steve Silverman’s book of the same name (at least, the same name as the UK version), this is an enjoyable meander through much of science using the linking theme of temperature, of heat and of cold.
The only slight concern about this approach is that, while Segre is excellent on his linking theme, some of the little sidelines are too short to give a full picture. For example, when exploring the measurement of temperature he puts the development of the thermometer alongside the invention of the telescope and the microscope. This is handed to Lippershey and his contemporaries, but ignores the near certain earilier development of a hybrid reflector by the Elizabethan Digges family. Similarly, Fred Hoyle gets no mention as 20th century champion of life from space.
But this concern aside (and in the end these side-references are only the garnish, not the main dish), it’s a lovely book. Starting with body heat and its implications, humanities attempts to measure temperature (a relatively modern concept), heat and cold on the earth and in the universe, the remarkable science of the extremes of temperature and much more.
All this is done in a chatty, informal way, yet without talking down to the reader. Segre is that rare find, a scientist who can make science accessible. He calls science his ‘family business’ – one of his uncles was a Nobel laureate – and it’s a business he clearly delights in.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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