Books to Get You Thinking

What lies beyond our earth in the farthest recesses of the Universe? It is a question that has intrigued and fascinated us from earliest times. Despite the remarkable progress that has been made over the past century in helping us better understand the structure of the Universe and the extraordinary cosmological events occurring in its vast expanse, there is much that still remains a mystery. It was Albert Einstein’s (1879 - 1955) seminal work that provided an elegant mathematical framework to study how the spacetime continuum is influenced by the all-pervasive gravitational field. One of the remarkable results of this theory is the fact that space and time expand or contract in response to the presence of matter and energy. Just as a stone thrown into a pool of water results in ripples travelling outwards, the gravity waves emanating from a change in matter create ripples in the spacetime topology. The search for concrete evidence for gravity waves has been a long and ongoing scientific endeavor. On February 11, 2016, scientists announced that a hundred years following Einstein’s publication of his paper on the theory of relativity, a clear signal caused by gravity waves had been finally detected. This signal originated from a spectacular cosmic event, a billion light years away, when two massive stars collided, merged and formed a black hole. This event led to a tremendous surge in the gravitational field which sent energy ripples across intergalactic space. The signal was captured through a complex set of experiments conducted by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) with the help of two large detectors that had been set up in Washington State and in Louisiana. It was a pivotal moment that provided conclusive evidence backing Einstein’s theory of relativity.

To delve deeper into the fascinating area of what is the nature of the Universe, Space and Time, as well as Einstein’s theory of relativity and gravitational waves, the Mercer County Library System has an excellent collection of popular science books, many of them written in non-technical terms, directed to an audience with little or no background in science.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons On Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Carlo Rovelli, renowned Italian theoretical physicist and author of several books and scientific papers, achieves the challenging task of capturing big ideas and the essence of modern physics into a tiny book that spans less than a hundred pages. The book is directed at stirring up readers’ curiosity and interest in the fascinating field of astrophysics and the principles governing space, time, gravity, universe, and mankind’s place in the cosmos. In lucid and concise terms, Rovelli elucidates complex ideas of general relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics and thermodynamics – key disciplines of modern physics. He goes on to trace our evolving knowledge about the universe from centuries ago through the eras of Aristotle and Copernicus to Einstein and current times when images from telescopes and space observatories allow us a glimpse into distant galaxies, stars and planets. In the closing chapter Rovelli concludes with some poignant reflections on man’s place in the universe –science would suggest that we are made from the same particles and matter as the rest of the world but how do we explain consciousness and the sense of being? There is much that still remains a mystery: “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. And it’s breathtaking.”

Gravity’s Engines
Gravity’s Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos by Caleb Scharf
Caleb Scharf, astronomer and Director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center has authored several popular science books, presenting complex concepts of astrophysics to an audience that has little or no technical background. In this book, Scharf gives an outstanding exposition on the science behind massive black holes and how they have influenced the evolution of the universe and of life itself. A black hole, as predicted by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, refers to a massive amount of matter densely packed into a small space that leads to a gravitational pull so powerful that nothing can escape from this mass - not even light. At the same time the intense energy generated within the black holes generates bursts of gravity waves. The presence of black holes can be felt all across the cosmos “profoundly influencing the environments and circumstances in which planets and planetary systems are formed, and the elemental and chemical mixes that go into them. Life … is fundamentally connected to all these chains of events.” Scharf traces the known history of black holes to the eighteenth century scientist John Michell who pioneered the idea of a black hole followed by Karl Schwarzschild and John Wheeler in the 1900s who developed the idea further in the light of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. The book is interspersed with fascinating diagrams – there is an image of a mysterious colossus in the depths of the cosmos made from X-ray photons that traveled towards the earth for 12 billion years.

Einstein – A Hundred Years
Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity by Andrew Robinson
An engaging and beautifully illustrated biography of Albert Einstein that was published to coincide with a hundred years since he completed the formulation of his Theory of Relativity. Andrew Robinson, in association with the Albert Einstein Archives, presents a unique portrait of history’s most celebrated scientist and his life juxtaposed against his transformative work as a physicist. Interspersed between the author’s writings are twelve different essays penned by eminent scientists, scholars and artists discussing Einstein’s contribution to scientific thought as well as different facets of his personality and thinking. The book is divided into two parts: Part One is devoted to Einstein as a scientist and physicist that includes essays on the history of relativity penned by Stephen Hawking; Einstein’s Scientific Legacy by Philip Anderson as well as excerpts from Einstein’s autobiographical notes. In Part Two, the focus is on Einstein, and his personal and family life. Essays about his love for music, and his views on religion have been written by Philip Glass and Max Jammer. Also reproduced is Bernard Cohen’s final interview with Einstein two weeks before he died that features Einstein’s reflections on the history of scientific thought.

“Science is not and never will be a closed book. Every important advance brings new questions. Every development reveals, in the long run, new and deeper difficulties.”
-Albert Einstein, The Evolution of Physics, 1938

-Nita Mathur


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