The march of science has never proceeded smoothly. It has been marked through the years by episodes of drama and comedy, of failure as well as triumph, and by outrageous strokes of luck, deserved and undeserved, and sometimes by human tragedy. It has seen deep intellectual friendships, as well as ferocious animosities, and once in a while acts of theft and malice, deceit, and even a hoax or two. Scientists come in all shapes - the obsessive and the dilettantish, the genial, the envious, the preternaturally brilliant and the slow-witted who sometimes see further in the end, the open-minded and the intolerant, recluses and arrivistes. From the death of Archimedes at the hands of an irritated Roman soldier to the concoction of a superconducting witches' brew at the very close of the twentieth century, the stories in Eurekas and Euphorias pour out, told with wit and relish by Walter Gratzer.
Open this book at random and you may chance on the clumsy chemist who breaks a thermometer in a reaction vat and finds mercury to be the catalyst that starts the modern dyestuff industry; or a famous physicist dissolving his gold Nobel Prize medal in acid to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis, recovering it when the war ends; mathematicians and physicists diverting themselves in prison cells, and even in a madhouse, by creating startling advances in their subject. We witness the careers, sometimes tragic, sometimes carefree, of the great women mathematicians, from Hypatia of Alexandria to Sophie Germain in France and Sonia Kovalevskaya in Russia and Sweden, and then Marie Curie's relentless battle with the French Academy. Here, then, a glorious parade unfolds to delight the reader, with stories to astonish, to instruct, and most especially, to entertain.
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(242mm x 164mm x 29mm)
Oxford University Press
Publisher: Oxford University Press
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UK Kirkus Review »
This is a splendid collection of 181 tales of the heroic, the fortuitous, the bold and the weird among the happenings and personalities in the history of science. It includes funeral orations, strange experiments and tolerant spouses (one wife willingly accompanied her husband downstairs in the middle of the night to demonstrate tortoise footprints in flour paste), plus absent-minded scientists galore, several huge doses of luck, some almighty cock-ups and quite a lot of explosions. Many people know the story of how Kekule literally dreamed up the chemical structure of benzene; perhaps fewer will have heard how physicist Neils Bohr, playing goalie for his local club, nearly let the ball through while carrying out calculations on the goalpost. It is intriguing to discover that Lord Kelvin initially believed Roentgen's paper first describing the use of X-rays was a hoax, or that Robert Boyle was a keen alchemist who searched for the 'philosopher's stone' that might turn base metals to gold. The author is a professor at King's College London whose speciality is the molecular mechanics of cell function, and who has written both books and book reviews. He has a smooth turn of phrase ('to leave bottles of laboratory preparations unlabelled is an offence against the deities of research'), pulls no punches (Newton is described as 'sour and ungenerous') and has clearly done his research well (although it is curious that he describes aspartame as having 'no pathological side-effects', a conclusion with which sufferers from the metabolic disease PKU might quibble). This is a well-chosen and intriguing collection, although as with all anthologies it's slightly difficult to know what it's for - a present for the scientist in your life? A book for laboratory technicians to keep by the loo? An aid for science writers looking for an intriguing snippet to add colour to their piece (there is an excellent index of names for the purpose)? Whatever, if you know someone who might like such a thing, they'll be well pleased with this one. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Walter Gratzer
Walter Gratzer is a biophysicist at the Randall Centre for Molecular Mechanisms of Cell Function, King's College London. He is known to a wide readership through his book reviews, most of which have appeared regularly in Nature: they are invariably models of clarity and elegance. He edited The Longman Literary Companion to Science (published in the USA as The Literary Companion to Science) and The Bedside Nature, and he is author of The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty (OUP, 2000).