4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The scientific process is an iterative one, ask a question, test that hypothesis, understand the result and ask a slightly different question and test again. Slowly an understanding of that specific process will be gained and revealed to the world. But every now and again a scientist will have an idea or revelation that leads to a body of work that fundamentally changes everything that we have understood until that point.

In this book, Marcus Chown takes 10 of the most significant developments and discoveries in physics since 1846. There he begins with Johann Galle looking through a giant brass refractor at the sky calling out the coordinates of the stars to his assistant. He was getting a crick in his neck and getting very cold when he called out the next set of coordinates. HE didn’t hear a response, just moments later the crash of a chair and looked up to see his Heinrich running towards him shouting, ‘The Star is not on the map!’ Using the Newton calculation he had predicted the location of a planet and he had discovered Neptune.

This and other significant discoveries like the discovery of electrical transmission predicted by Maxwell and proven by Hertz. How Friedmann used the latest gravitational theory from Einstein to predict that there was a time before the universe existed and how it took 48 years and several billion pounds before one man’s prediction came true on particles. Finally in September 2015 a new sensor with two laser beams 4 km long detected a shudder in space-time shortly after being turned on. This was the first time a gravitational wave had ever been seen and these had been predicted 99 years before by a certain Mr Einstein.

We have learned so much and yet still know almost nothing about the function of the universe, but each step is a revelation in its own way. I thought that this was a very accessible book on some of the most significant discoveries in physics. Chown has taken some liberties to fictionalise the accounts of these physicists and their breakthroughs, but I thought it worked really well. The stories are rooted in the facts and there is a strong narrative that kept my interest all the way through the book. Highly recommended.

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