August 27, 2018

Book Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

by Carlo Rovelli

Genre: Science, Nonfiction, Physics
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Length: 86 pages
Published: March 1, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 2 out of 5 stars 

Official Book Summary:

"Everything you need to know about the beauty of modern physics in less than 100 pages.

In seven brief lessons, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli guides readers with admirable clarity through the most transformative physics breakthroughs of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This playful, entertaining and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, already a major bestseller in Italy, explains general relativity, quantum mechanics, elementary particles, gravity, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, and the role of humans in the strange world Rovelli describes. This is a book about the joy of discovery. It takes readers to the frontiers of our knowledge: to the most minute reaches of the fabric of space, back to the origins of the cosmos, and into the workings of our minds. 'Here, on the edge of what we know, in contact with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world,' Rovelli writes. 'And it’s breathtaking.'"


Quote: 

“We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy we are being nothing other than what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.” 

Excerpt: (from Chapter One)

"In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don't get anywhere by not 'wasting' time--something, unfortunately, that the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget. He was in Pavia. He had joined his family, having abandoned his studies in Germany, unable to endure the rigors of his high school there. It was the beginning of the twentieth century, and in Italy there beginning of its industrial revolution. His father, an engineer, was installing the first electricity-generating power plants in the Paduan plains. Albert was reading Kant and attending occasional lectures at the University of Pavia: for pleasure, without being regestered there or having to think about exams. It is thus that serious scientists are made.

After this he registered at the University of Zurich and immersed himself in the study of physics. A few years later, in 1905, he sent three articles to the most prestigious scientific journal of the period, the Annalen der Physik. Each of these is worthy of a Nobel Prize. The first shows that atoms really exist. The second lays the first foundation for quantum mechanics, which I will discuss in the next lesson. The third presents his first theory of relativity (known today as 'special relativity'), the theory that elucidates how time does not pass identically for everyone: two identical twins find that they are different in age if one of them has traveled at speed."


My Book Review: 

Carlo Rovelli's short book covers a series of seven introductory lessons on physics: general relativity, quantum mechanics, particles, gravity, black holes, the universe, and humans.

I most enjoyed the first lesson about Einstein's theory of general relativity, perhaps because Rovelli is one of the greatest figures with whom most audiences will be familiar. For readers who are familiar with physics, if I had to test my memory and try to explain what I remember without referring to any online help (many months post-reading) I think I learned that space and gravitational fields are the same thing and that (1) space is constantly expanding, (2) gravity within space moves in curves, and (3) these forces have wave-like movements. I admittedly have no idea how correct or incorrect that statement is, but for those in the know it might serve as a testament to how well or poorly the text explains these theories to non-physicists like myself. (Let me know in the comments section below how far off my ideas are.)

More than being instructive, overall the book felt a little more self-congratulatory about why physics is awesome rather than helping me truly understand what physics really means, but that is just one reader's take.

The book is slim (only 86 pages), but I'm still worlds away from being able to hold a semi-intellectual conversation on the subject. The theories are explained as world-changing and mind-blowing, and physics greatest scientists are portrayed as eyeglass-wearing rock stars, but besides being a bit of an ego trip about the field's achievements, I do not know how clear its lessons on the subject matter truly are. For that, I would need to consult with other non-experts to see how they felt.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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