Book Review: Gravity, by Nicholas Mee

A couple of years ago I reviewed Nicholas Mee's book on theHiggs Force, and recently he was kind enough to send me a review copy of his latest book,

Gravity: Cracking the Cosmic Code

Due to a number of issues, not least technical ones, this review has taken rather longer to see the light of day than intended so please accept my apologies, and here it is!
Gravity - Cracking the Cosmic Code (as with Higgs Force) is a story. It is the story of that force we all take for granted, so massive* in its effect upon us yet so subtle. Nick Mee starts with the rather surprising assertion that "you have never felt the force of gravity," and that's the hook with which he catches your interest, leading you into a tale of discovery, realisation, innovation and obsession. The tale teases us with the expected mention of Newton, to whom the discovery of gravity is widely attributed, but then we are plunged back in time to the very beginnings of astronomy when the eponymous force was being thought about and tested even before anybody realised it was there. From here the story is told peering over the shoulders of some of human kind's greatest thinkers as they poke and prod at the very fabric of space and time.

Mee strolls through part of the story offering us anecdotal insights into the characters and their motivations. These are as often amusing as they are intriguing** and lead us gently into the bits of the book that are really impressive: We are not fobbed off with a magician's wave of the hand but actually given insight - by way of a thought experiment or puzzle that we are asked to ruminate on - into the processes and activities which led to great leaps in the understanding of our universe. This is done in such a way that we can almost imagine making them ourselves if only we were there at the right place and time.

Gravity starts off with a very gentle learning curve but we are encouraged to pick up the pace. It's written so that anybody with a passing interest in the fundamental nature of our universe can get started, but also allowing everyone who reads this book to learn something new. I fully believe that anybody who works their way through Gravity with an open mind will extend their own understanding further than they might have thought possible. Though it gets a bit hairy when the word "quantum" starts to turn up...

It's not just prose, either. Nicholas Mee brings us back to now with the odd relevant phrase from classical literature or a contemporary pop song lyric that fits the occasion, and gets us thinking with the occasional puzzle to ponder (the answers are always given on the next page).

It's a great book that I imagine appealing to the same type of person that (I imagine) reads this blog. There is easy opportunity to engage with the subject matter at various levels: if you're not confident with some of the mathematical ideas the narrative soon gets back to the anecdotes and people-stories; if, at the other end of the scale, you want to engage further there are extensive notes and references for further reading.

To sum-up, it's a great book that details not only a fascinating cosmological concept but also its place in our own history. Written with a very engaging style it's suitable for a wide ranging audience - the only prerequisite is an interest in the subject matter!

Gravity - Cracking the Cosmic Code is published by Virtual Image and is currently available in Kindlehardcover or paperback.







* Vague pun slightly intended.
** There are some colourful characters in the history of mathematics and astronomy! Madness, obsession, murder, betrayal and death by distended bladder are all themes that crop up regularly in the great stories of scientific endeavour.

 

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