Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: From Newton to Einstein

‘From Newton to Einstein’ by Benjamin Harrow, PhD, begins with as an assertion, ‘Before Newton the Solar System was without form, and void; then Newton came and there was light. To have discovered a law not only applicable to matter on this earth, but to the planets and sun and stars beyond, is a triumph which places Newton among the super-men’.
After giving a brief but illuminating background about the contribution by early heroes of independent thought like, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Tyco Brahe, the book opens to us the world of Newton. That too, in completely nonmathematical terms, which in itself is a great feat.  Introducing Newton’s ideas in clear terms, further questions are answered, like, why the moon does not fall to the earth is on account of its motion, why ebb and flow of the tides behave the way it is, and other contemporary issues like ether and, propagation of light.
It then goes on to describe how, experiments on the discharge of electricity through gases, by physicists like, Crookes, Rutherford, Lonard, Roentgen, Becquerel, and, above all, J. J. Thomson, which pointed very clearly to the fact that the atoms are not the smallest particles of matter at all, paved way for Einstein.  Einstein’s contributions are discussed. How while day-dreaming at his patent office desk, he saw a builder on the rooftop opposite his window which led him to imagine the man falling off the roof and whether the fall would lead to feeling of weightlessness. If Newton was said to be triggered by a falling apple, for Einstein, there is a falling man.
‘Einstein’s great achievement’, the book says, ‘consists in applying this revised conception of space and time to elucidate cosmic problems’. ‘Gravitation itself— more universal than anything else in the universe— may be interpreted in terms of strains on world-lines, or, what amounts to the same thing, strains of space-time combinations.’
This book gives a good description of scientific thinking from Newton to Einstein, with copious references to all thinkers, whose contributions are of significance.