Real Science Book Reviews

Why does E=mc2? (And why should we care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff ForeshawBook Cover of Why does E=mc2 by Brian Cox and Jeff Foreshaw

Read by Dr Spock February 2011

Dr Spock recommends this for anyone interested in answering this question, but who isn't actually interested in quantum physics!

At some point in time we have all heard the famous equation relating energy to mass and the speed of light, but how many people have actually figured out how and why? Einstein figured it out at the beginning of last century and wrote about it in papers too complicated for most lay-persons to understand, so the beauty of this simple equation has been overlooked by almost everyone.

Professors Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw show us how the equation came to be and why, then lead us on a journey through physics to show us how and why this little equation governs our universe, from the smallest atoms to entire galaxies. Many people might get turned off by physics and maths because "it's just too hard" but Cox and Forshaw delicately lead even the most math-adverse people through, or they tell us where to start reading again if the intricacies of the math bores us, so we can simply skip over bits that don't warrant our complete understanding.

The majority of the book is dedicated to the derivation of the famous equation using simple analogies and some very basic mathematics. The authors build on concepts such as a "universal speed limit" to eventually explain the inner workings of the universe and space-time. Unlike Hawking's books where just about every paragraph makes the reader stop and think, the enthusiastic narrative (almost whimsical) style of the authors makes this book a relatively easy read, and even if you have no interest in particle or quantum physics the book gives fascinating insights into how man has solved some of the deepest complexities of our universe, often with nothing more than pencil and paper!

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Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It by Simon SinghBook Cover of Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It by Simon Singh

Read by Dr Spock, long, long ago...

From the author of "The Code Book" and "Fermat's Last Theorem".

In a little over 500 or so pages, Simon Singh takes us on a journey through the discovery of our universe. He doesn't spend too much time getting "into the weeds" of complex mathematics or physics, preferring to enthral the reader with anecdotes of how individual people made their discoveries about our universe. We are taken through history, from how the Ancients use of a stick in the sand to measure the circumference of the Earth and distances to the Moon and Sun, to Edwin Hubble and his famous observations of space, finally to the 1960's observations by Penzias and Wilson of the background microwave radiation left over from the big bang over 14 billion years earlier. In many places, Singh provides sufficient detail that the reader could themselves carry out their own experiments, if they felt so inclined.

It would be impossible to completely remove all maths and astrophysics from a book discussing the origins of the universe, Einstein's relativity theories and cosmology, so where the author does need to involve complexity, marvellous graphics and pictures are included. (I have heard scuttlebutt that some e-reader versions of this book don't include some/all of the imagery, so be warned!)

The book finishes by mentioning fields of ongoing research and debate; such as dark matter, string theories, inflation etc. and he provides a good further reading list for the enthusiastic reader.

With such a lot of information to cover, the author admits he had to leave a lot out, which may upset some science purists but in a book written for non-scientists there is enough information, history, maths, physics and humour included for everyone to enjoy; his book on the cosmos is completely down-to-earth!

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