9780198609414 / 0198609418

Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science


Publisher:Oxford University Press



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About the book:

These days we have this worryingly facile expectation that everything can be easily explained in 20 seconds or 20 words. Many things, especially those in philosophy and science are not easily explained but are well worth the effort required to understand them. In Galileo's Finger: the Ten Great Ideas of Science, Peter Atkins gives those of us who are not specialist scientists a great opportunity to get to grips with some of the most interesting, important and generally complex scientific concepts which have emerged over the last 500 years or more since modern science began its renaissance. Galileo's Finger covers topics that impact our everyday lives such as evolution by natural selection, inheritance encoded in DNA, the conservation of energy, entropy, the atomic structure of matter, quantum theory, the idea of the expanding universe, spacetime and mathematical reasoning. No doubt some will be disappointed that their favourite concept is not included in Atkins' top ten but as Peter Atkins explains, he focuses on ideas rather than applications; his idea has been to identify the ideas that illuminate and, in most cases, provide the foundation for technological advance, concept-driven rather than tool-driven science. There are diagrams and some formulae but anyone who can text a message on a mobile phone or negotiate the complexities of the English language should get a pretty good idea of these concepts from Galileo's Finger. As with so many things in life, motivation is half the battle. Peter Atkins is very well qualified to write with authority about such a range of topics as he is Professor of Chemistry in the University of Oxford. And because he has written several widely used textbooks on the subject he knows how to explain clearly and engagingly without getting caught up in often misleading analogies as some popular science writers do. It needs confidence in your own grasp of a subject to write straightforwardly about it as Peter Atkins does. For anyone who has always wanted to try and get to grips with some proper understanding of entropy or all those links between DNA, proteins, amino acids, RNA or PCR, here is your chance, but do not expect a quick fix. --Douglas Palmer

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