Skip to main content

Gravity – Brian Clegg ****

Gravity is a subject that sneaks around the senses. It’s all pervasive. It gets everywhere in your life, but on the whole you ignore it, except when it intrudes in the form of a fall. It is, of course, much more than the thing that sticks you to the surface of the planet, as it tends to be presented in children’s non-fiction books. It’s why the Earth stays in orbit. It’s why the Earth and the Sun formed in the first place. And all this from a force that is billions upon billions of times weaker than electromagnetism.
In the same way, gravity tends to be sidelined in popular science books. It creeps into books about relativity, or basic physics. But I’m not aware that it has been treated head on until now. To be honest, when presented with it, I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough material to fill a book, but Brian Clegg has defied that possibility by giving us both a historical journey through humanity’s gradual understanding that gravity existed at all (I love that Newton was criticised because his idea was ‘occult’) up to the amazing breakthrough of general relativity.
This is the most detailed explanation of general relativity I’ve seen in a popular science book, which really helped as most of the ones I’ve seen have left big holes in my understanding. It’s not too technical, though it is the heaviest part of the book and may put one or two people off. It’s followed, though, by the light relief of antigravity, a brilliant subject as it allows all the fringe ideas full rein.
All in all, it won’t appeal so much to the readers of really light weight popular science, but if you like your reading with a bit of meat on it, but without the bafflement of those books from physics professors that stray too far into the maths, this is the one for  you.
Hardback:  
Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Peter Spitz
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…