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Adding a Dimension: Seventeen Essays on the History of Science

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In this amusing and informative collection of seventeen essays, Dr. Asimov takes the reader on a rousing mental trip into the world of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy.


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In this amusing and informative collection of seventeen essays, Dr. Asimov takes the reader on a rousing mental trip into the world of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy.

30 review for Adding a Dimension: Seventeen Essays on the History of Science

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    I was given a copy of this collection when I was nine or ten, and it permanently changed my attitude to science and mathematics. Nearly all the individual entries are excellent, though I think I'd have to give top billing to the ones on the Michelson-Morley experiment (a negative result can change the whole history of science!) and Cantor's diagonalization argument (there are different kinds of infinities!!) If you know a bright kid who's run out of interesting things to read, you might want to s I was given a copy of this collection when I was nine or ten, and it permanently changed my attitude to science and mathematics. Nearly all the individual entries are excellent, though I think I'd have to give top billing to the ones on the Michelson-Morley experiment (a negative result can change the whole history of science!) and Cantor's diagonalization argument (there are different kinds of infinities!!) If you know a bright kid who's run out of interesting things to read, you might want to see if he likes it. I'm guessing most of the book is still just as topical.

  2. 5 out of 5

    G. Branden

    (See my review of The Solar System and Back for my overall impressions of Asimov's essays for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.) The best of Asimov's F&SF essay collections I have yet read, this title serves up one outstanding article after another. Perhaps surprisingly, this work features only two essays on astronomy, and a plurality (seven of the seventeen) are on mathematical subjects. Part I--Mathematics Chapter 1: "T-Formation" (August 1963): large numbers; the googol, the googo (See my review of The Solar System and Back for my overall impressions of Asimov's essays for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.) The best of Asimov's F&SF essay collections I have yet read, this title serves up one outstanding article after another. Perhaps surprisingly, this work features only two essays on astronomy, and a plurality (seven of the seventeen) are on mathematical subjects. Part I--Mathematics Chapter 1: "T-Formation" (August 1963): large numbers; the googol, the googolplex, the relative magnitudes of countable particles in the universe vs. the number of possible permutations of a shuffled 52-card deck; Leonardo Fibonacci and the number named for him; prime numbers; Marin Mersenne; abundant, deficient, and perfect numbers; Skewes's number. Chapter 2: "One, Ten, Buckle My Shoe" (December 1962): the binary number system; digital computers (a fresher concept 47 years ago than today); other number bases generally. Chapter 3: "Varieties of the Infinite" (September 1959): the infinity symbol and its behavior over various arithmetic operations; one-to-one correspondence (bijective mappings); the comparative infiniteness of even integers, odd integers, all integers, and all rationals; the infiniteness of the reals; Georg Cantor; aleph-notation. (review to be continued) Chapter 4: "A Piece of Pi" (May 1960) Chapter 5: "Tools of the Trade" (September 1960) Chapter 6: "The Imaginary That Isn't" (March 1961) Chapter 7: "Pre-fixing It Up" (November 1962) Part II--Physics Chapter 8: "The Rigid Vacuum" (April 1963) Chapter 9: "The Light that Failed" (June 1963) Chapter 10: "The Light Fantastic" (August 1962) Part III--Chemistry Chapter 11: "Slow Burn" (October 1962) Chapter 12: "You, Too, Can Speak Gaelic" (March 1963) Part IV--Biology Chapter 13: "The Lost Generation" (February 1963) Chapter 14: "He's Not My Type" (January 1963) Part V--Astronomy Chapter 15: "The Shape of Things" (September 1962) Chapter 16: "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (October 1963) Part VI--General Chapter 17: "The Isaac Winners" (July 1963) My favorite quotes from the book: [A:] Swiss botanist named Karl Wilhelm von Nägeli, a professor at the University of Munich[, ...:] was heir to a nineteeth-century school of German biologists who called themselves "nature philosophers". The nature philosophers were a group who believed in the mystic importance of the individual and in the existence of misty and undefined forces particularly associated with life. The German language is particularly well adapted to a kind of learned professorial prose that resembles a cryptogram to which no key exists, and the nature philosophers could use this sort of language perfectly. If obscurity is mistaken for profundity, then they were profound indeed. (p. 155) The notion of the stationary earth was accepted by Ptolemy and therefore by the medieval scholars and by the Church. It was not until 1543, a generation after Magellan's voyage, that a major onslaught was made against the view. In that year, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish astronomer, published his views of the universe and died at once, ducking all controversy. (p. 178)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laoonatic

    I would have given it five stars if I had read it in my childhood - that would have been more exciting. But even now, although I knew most of the technical parts, it was still interesting to see scraps of the history of science tied together with juicy little things about the scientists themselves and also to brush up on some dusty concepts from chemistry, physics, biology. My favourite part was (really unexpectedly) the chemistry one - the chapter on how substances in organic chemistry are name I would have given it five stars if I had read it in my childhood - that would have been more exciting. But even now, although I knew most of the technical parts, it was still interesting to see scraps of the history of science tied together with juicy little things about the scientists themselves and also to brush up on some dusty concepts from chemistry, physics, biology. My favourite part was (really unexpectedly) the chemistry one - the chapter on how substances in organic chemistry are named was pure delight. Had I known those in high school... I also enjoyed the writing style, especially since it's the first thing I'm reading from Asimov. I might give his other novels a try, too, although science fiction is not really my thing. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, more so to persons not from "sciencey" fields and especially (!!!) to children to spark their interest in science.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steve Carroll

    call it 4.5. This one is a barely themed collection of essays Asimov wrote for magazines, about half of them are about numbers. This one has essays on infinity, very large numbers, measurement systems, the michaelson-morley experiment that disproved the existence of the ether, and a great story about the eventual discovery of Mendel's work on genetics (he was a monk by trade) by other scientists, blood types, and the true story of Columbus' journey's relationship to the earth being round. (Yes, call it 4.5. This one is a barely themed collection of essays Asimov wrote for magazines, about half of them are about numbers. This one has essays on infinity, very large numbers, measurement systems, the michaelson-morley experiment that disproved the existence of the ether, and a great story about the eventual discovery of Mendel's work on genetics (he was a monk by trade) by other scientists, blood types, and the true story of Columbus' journey's relationship to the earth being round. (Yes, the Earth has been known to be round for 1000s of years, the question was how big is it)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ami Iida

    chapter 13 ; Evolution and genetic laws of Mendel are the complementary relationship. it is intriguing about Unit conversion and treat very huge number and local minimum .

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gisele

    Interesting quote: “The key step toward the true value was taken by François Vieta, a French mathematician of the sixteenth century. He is considered the father of algebra because, among other things, he introduced the use of letter symbols for unknowns, the famous x’s and y’s, which most of us have had to, at one time or another in our lives, face with trepidation and uncertainty. Vieta performed the algebraic equivalent of Archimedes’ geometic method of exhaustion. That is, instead of setting Interesting quote: “The key step toward the true value was taken by François Vieta, a French mathematician of the sixteenth century. He is considered the father of algebra because, among other things, he introduced the use of letter symbols for unknowns, the famous x’s and y’s, which most of us have had to, at one time or another in our lives, face with trepidation and uncertainty. Vieta performed the algebraic equivalent of Archimedes’ geometic method of exhaustion. That is, instead of setting up an infinite series of polygons that came closer and closer to a circle, he deduced an infinite series of fractions which could be evaluated to give a figure for π. The greater the number of terms used in the evaluation, the closer you were to the true value of π.” (pg. 43) This book gives a intro all the different fields: mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. Plus it is at times very humorous I highly recommend this book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marcia Oliveira

    I'm having so much fun! I'm having so much fun!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    This essay collection is typical Asimov, which is of course why I love it. He delights in discussing everything from his new counting system based on trillions to a breakdown of his opinions on the greatest scientists of all time. As usual, I found his most compelling essays to be those in which he described the history of science. "A Piece of Pi," "Slow Burn," and "The Lost Generation" come to mind. His worst bits (though still entertaining and fascinating, of course) were those that either att This essay collection is typical Asimov, which is of course why I love it. He delights in discussing everything from his new counting system based on trillions to a breakdown of his opinions on the greatest scientists of all time. As usual, I found his most compelling essays to be those in which he described the history of science. "A Piece of Pi," "Slow Burn," and "The Lost Generation" come to mind. His worst bits (though still entertaining and fascinating, of course) were those that either attempted to propose some complicated new idea with too many examples, like "T-Formation," or were overly obtuse in his attempts to explain to the layman, like "He's Not My Type." Overall, again a very informative and fun essay collection from Asimov.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pineapple

    Very good history on various subjects from math to astronomy!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Octavia Cade

    Interesting collection of popular essays on the history of science, covering multiple disciplines. I feel like I've read all the mathematical stuff in other of Asimov's books before so that was a little dull, but as always (for me, anyway) things improved once we got to the biology, which is my own particular scientific preference. My favourite essay was "The Lost Generation", on Mendel's pea experiments - no surprise, botany improves everything. Interesting collection of popular essays on the history of science, covering multiple disciplines. I feel like I've read all the mathematical stuff in other of Asimov's books before so that was a little dull, but as always (for me, anyway) things improved once we got to the biology, which is my own particular scientific preference. My favourite essay was "The Lost Generation", on Mendel's pea experiments - no surprise, botany improves everything.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Isabella González

    One of the best parts of this book, which was published in 1964, is from the first page, regarding a number christened "googol" in 1940: "Personally, I think it is an awful name, but the young child of one of the authors invented it, and what could a proud father do? Thus, we are afflicted forever with that baby-talk number." Isaac Asimov died in 1991, too soon to witness the proliferation of the baby-talk number into one of the most popular words in the English language, or one of the most popu One of the best parts of this book, which was published in 1964, is from the first page, regarding a number christened "googol" in 1940: "Personally, I think it is an awful name, but the young child of one of the authors invented it, and what could a proud father do? Thus, we are afflicted forever with that baby-talk number." Isaac Asimov died in 1991, too soon to witness the proliferation of the baby-talk number into one of the most popular words in the English language, or one of the most popular words in the world. ("Googlelealo," as my mom says.) This book is a collection of pop-sci essays. It is divided into six parts, on Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, and a General section where he awards the Isaac Awards to the 72 greatest scientists (in the author's estimation). I especially enjoyed the essays on large numbers, varieties of infinity, the electromagnetic spectrum, and blood types. The book focuses on basic science, so the content hasn't expired, but where the content is a bit stale (lasers), it provides a good history of science. I started this book because I thought it might help me fall asleep, but like Albert Abraham Michelson, the American physicist whose experiment failed so thunderously "as to win its perpetrator a Nobel Prize," (from Ch. 9, The Light That Failed), "What a happy fairy tale for scientists it would be if all experiments failed like that!"

  12. 5 out of 5

    Benj FitzPatrick

    Not exactly the usual Asimov, but just as well written as the rest of his work. His essays here provide a novel viewpoint wrt science and math. I wish I had read this in high school so I could see if/how my opinion changed after undergrad/grad school.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Curtiss

    Another of the Good Doctor's collections from his science/mathematics column in the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction. Another of the Good Doctor's collections from his science/mathematics column in the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Avi

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Leemon

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Faber

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill Lockhart

  18. 5 out of 5

    Justin Hustoft

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael Smith

  20. 5 out of 5

    George

  21. 5 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Frantz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marcin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Arlina Espinoza

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Alonso

  27. 5 out of 5

    Randy Cygan

  28. 4 out of 5

    John Pyrce

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Vernon

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pravin Gandhi

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