Saturday, April 14, 2007

Scientific works that are also literature

John Gribbin, a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex and the author of The Fellowship -- a new book which deals with the 17th-century scientific revolution, named a "five best" list of "scientific works [that] are also literature of a high order" for Opinion Journal.

The most recently-published title on the list:
Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman

Something of a self-indulgence to conclude with. One of the biggest influences on my scientific career, and later my career as a popularizer of science, was the multivolume "Feynman Lectures on Physics," which appeared in the early 1960s. "Six Easy Pieces," the epitome of that masterwork, really does offer an easy guide to the essence of physics--and science in general. Feynman explores the most fundamental scientific theories--the structure and behavior of atoms, quantum mechanics and gravity. These fundamentals ought to be as well known to intelligent people as Shakespeare, Mozart and Picasso. The material in the book is essentially a transcript of Feynman lecturing (you can even get the lectures themselves on a CD to accompany the book) and comes across like a wise friend giving you the inside story on a subject he loves. More than 350 years after William Gilbert, Feynman never missed an opportunity to hammer home what remains the most essential feature of science: No matter how much you may love your pet idea, no matter how beautiful it is mathematically, "if it disagrees with experiment, then it is wrong!"
Read about the title on Gribbin's list that Samuel Pepys called "the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life."

Learn more about John Gribbin's The Fellowship: Gilbert, Bacon, Harvey, Wren, Newton, and the Story of the Scientific Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue