Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Tatsuo Tabata

David Lindley

Boltzmann's Atom

The revolution in physics at the start of the 20th century didn't spring from nowhere. In Boltzmann's Atom David Lindley tells the story of the Viennese physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, and how his work in the second half of the 19th century played an important part in setting the scene for later advances in physics. In particular his work on the kinetic theory of gases helped to demonstrate the existence of atoms. Not everyone agreed with him though - the book isn't just about Boltzmann, it also looks at the views of other scientists in the debate about thermodynamics and the validity of results such as Boltzmann's H-theorem.

Biographies of scientists are a good way of introducing scientific ideas to the non-technical reader. I felt, however that with this book it sometimes needed a bit of previous experience of thermodynamics to see what was going on in the arguments between different scientists. But it does help to bring home the problems that Boltzmann had. He was the sort of person to make bold advances in a subject, but he got bogged down in a debate about the existence of atoms with philosophers such as Mach, and the new physics at the start of the 20th century rather passed him by. Boltzmann always suffered from lack of contentment and in 1906 he committed suicide. This book provides a valuable insight into how the life of such a forward seeing scientist came to have such a sad ending.

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Hardcover 272 pages  
ISBN: 0684851865
Salesrank: 974702
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2001 Free Press
Amazon price $19.99
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Hardcover 256 pages  
ISBN: 0684851865
Salesrank: 1773161
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2001 Free Press
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Hardcover
ISBN: 0684851865
Salesrank: 1093569
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2001 Free Press
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Product Description
BOLTZMANN'S ATOM tells the story of the crucial scientific struggle over the existence of the atom during the second half of the 19th century. This struggle was a turning point in the history of the modern world. It would never have happened without the forgotten genius of Ludwig Boltzmann, a 19th century Austrian theoretical physicist who had a string of deeply profound insights primarily into the physical nature of heat, but also gas, matter, and, in fact, literally everything. In 1850 no university taught such a subject as theoretical physics, but by 1900 it was a fully fledged discipline with whole institutes devoted to it. This burgeoning scientific movement led within just a few years to the discovery of quantum mechanics by Max Planck, radioactivity by Marie Curie, general relativity by Albert Einstein, the uncertainty principle by Werner Heisenberg, and more recently quantum electodynamics by Richard Feynman, the quark by Murray Gell-Mann, and even up-to-the minute developments in chaos and superstring theory. Indeed, as David Lindley shows, Boltzman's brilliant insights brought about the golden age of physics that we continue to live in today. David Lindley frames his story with the long running debate between Boltzmann and Ernst Mach who held that theoretical physics was completely misguided. Mach's memorable line in 1900 "I don't believe atoms exist" is where the book begins.