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Boltzmann's Atom : The Great Debate That Launched A Revolution In Physics

Boltzmann's Atom : The Great Debate That Launched A Revolution In Physics - 01 edition

ISBN13: 978-0684851860

Cover of Boltzmann
ISBN13: 978-0684851860
ISBN10: 0684851865
Cover type:
Edition/Copyright: 01
Publisher: Free Press
Published: 2001
International: No

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Boltzmann's Atom : The Great Debate That Launched A Revolution In Physics - 01 edition

ISBN13: 978-0684851860

David Lindley

ISBN13: 978-0684851860
ISBN10: 0684851865
Cover type:
Edition/Copyright: 01
Publisher: Free Press

Published: 2001
International: No
Summary

In 1900 many eminent scientists did not believe atoms existed, yet within just a few years the atomic century launched into history with an astonishing string of breakthroughs in physics that began with Albert Einstein and continues to this day. Before this explosive growth into the modern age took place, an all-but-forgotten genius strove for forty years to win acceptance for the atomic theory of matter and an altogether new way of doing physics. Ludwig Boltz-mann battled with philosophers, the scientific establishment, and his own potent demons. His victory led the way to the greatest scientific achievements of the twentieth century.

Now acclaimed science writer David Lindley portrays the dramatic story of Boltzmann and his embrace of the atom, while providing a window on the civilized world that gave birth to our scientific era. Boltzmann emerges as an endearingly quixotic character, passionately inspired by Beethoven, who muddled through the practical matters of life in a European gilded age. Boltzmann's story reaches from fin de siècle Vienna, across Germany and Britain, to America. As the Habsburg Empire was crumbling, Germany's intellectual might was growing; Edinburgh in Scotland was one of the most intellectually fertile places on earth; and, in America, brilliant independent minds were beginning to draw on the best ideas of the bureaucratized old world.

Boltzmann's nemesis in the field of theoretical physics at home in Austria was Ernst Mach, noted today in the term Mach I, the speed of sound. Mach believed physics should address only that which could be directly observed. How could we know that frisky atoms jiggling about corresponded to heat if we couldn't see them? Why should we bother with theories that only told us what would probably happen, rather than making an absolute prediction? Mach and Boltzmann both believed in the power of science, but their approaches to physics could not have been more opposed. Boltzmann sought to explain the real world, and cast aside any philosophical criteria. Mach, along with many nineteenth-century scientists, wanted to construct an empirical edifice of absolute truths that obeyed strict philosophical rules. Boltzmann did not get on well with authority in any form, and he did his best work at arm's length from it. When at the end of his career he engaged with the philosophical authorities in the Viennese academy, the results were personally disastrous and tragic. Yet Boltzmann's enduring legacy lives on in the new physics and technology of our wired world.

Lindley's elegant telling of this tale combines the detailed breadth of the best history, the beauty of theoretical physics, and the psychological insight belonging to the finest of novels.

Author Bio

Lindley, David :

David Lindley has worked as a theoretical physicist at Cambridge University and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and as an editor at Nature, Science, and Science News. He is the author of The End of Physics and Where Does the Weirdness Go? He lives in Wisconsin.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1: A Letter from Bombay
Lessons in Obscurity

Chapter 2: Invisible World
The Kind of Motion We Call Heat

Chapter 3: Dr. Boltzmann of Vienna
The Precocious Genius

Chapter 4: Irreversible Changes
The Enigma of Entropy

Chapter 5: "You Will Not Fit In"
The Daunting Prussians

Chapter 6: The British Engagement
Parsons, Lawyers, and Physicists

Chapter 7: "It's Easy to Mistake a Great Stupidity for a Great Discovery"
Philosophy Seduces Physics

Chapter 8: American Innovations
New World, New Ideas

Chapter 9: The Shock of the New
The Arrival of the Atomic Century

Chapter 10: Beethoven in Heaven
Shadows of the Mind

Chapter 11: Annus Mirabilis, Annus Mortis
Einstein Rises, and a Man Falls

Postscript
Acknowledgments
Bibliography and Notes
Index

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