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From the acclaimed New York Times science writer George Johnson, an irresistible book on the ten most fascinating experiments in the history of science—moments when a curious soul posed a particularly eloquent question to nature and received a crisp, unambiguous reply.
Johnson takes us to those times when the world seemed filled with mysterious forces, when scientists were dazzled by light, by electricity, and by the beating of the hearts they laid bare on the dissecting table.
We see Galileo singing to mark time as he measures the pull of gravity, and Newton carefully inserting a needle behind his eye to learn how light causes vibrations in the retina. William Harvey ties a tourniquet around his arm and watches his arteries throb above and his veins bulge below, proving that blood circulates. Luigi Galvani sparks electrical currents in dissected frog legs, wondering at the twitching muscle fibers, and Ivan Pavlov makes his now-famous dogs salivate at ascending chord progressions.
For all of them, diligence was rewarded. In an instant, confusion was swept aside and something new about nature leaped into view. In bringing us these stories, Johnson restores some of the romance to science, reminding us of the existential excitement of a single soul staring down the unknown.
“The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments is an appealing account of important scientific discoveries. . . .Johnson has a good feel for detail. . . and an easy touch with larger concepts. . . . This tidy book finds beauty throughout science—even among dead frogs and drooling dogs.”—New York Times Book Review
“Delightful, succinct, elegant.”—Roger Penrose
“Absorbing . . .”—Discover
“Johnson’s book is as elegant as the experiments he features . . . . The writing here is lively, mixing bits of biography with the experiments themselves, offering the human element that explains the scientists’ motivation as well as the science. Johnson shares personal anecdotes as well as theory in an engaging, compelling style. The result is a little gem of a book, enjoyable to read both as history and science.”—Bookpage
“Johnson deftly relates the circumstances and eccentricities integral to the findings behind science’s most seminal experiments.”—Seed Magazine
“Johnson engagingly dramatizes his stories with failure-crowned-by-success narratives, adding biographical sparks . . . Johnson exerts classic appeal to science readers: presenting the lone genius making a great discovery. Good to go in any library.”—Booklist
“Concise, evocative . . . pays wonderful homage to the science and scientists that helped create the modern world.”—Publisher’s Weekly
"Award-winning science writer Johnson (A Fire in the Mind; Strange Beauty) calls readers away from the industrialized mega-scale of modern science (which requires multimillion-dollar equipment and teams of scientists) to appreciate 10 historic experiments whose elegant simplicity revealed key features of our bodies and our world. . . . With these 10 entertaining histories, Johnson reminds us of a time when all research was hands-on and the most earthshaking science came from. . . a single mind confronting the unknown."—Publishers Weekly
"In each of these concise, evocative chapters, Johnson makes the essence of the experiment clear and captures the character of the experimenter. . . .Pays wonderful homage to the science and scientists that helped create the modern world."—Kirkus