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Amir Aczel

Pendulum: Leon Foucault and the triumph of science

Leon Foucault is well known today for his use of a pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. In this book Aczel gives more details of his life such as his early work in photography. We hear how Foucault was resposible for the development of quite a few scientific instruments - I hadn't realised that as well as his pendulum, he was also invented the gyroscope.
In France in the 19th century, science recieved considerable state support - official scientists had high status, and Aczel emphasises the problems of an outsider like Foucault. However, many biographers present a similar story for their subjects, and since Foucault had the support of Napoleon III for a significant amount of his work, many people might consider him fortunate in that respect.

As well as the story of Foucault himself, the reader learns about other French scientists who are not so well known, such as Francois Arago. We also get a lesson on the history of France in the mid 19th century - the rise (and subsequent fall) of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. But this is not a boring history book - it is well written and keeps the interest of the reader throughout. Indeed I would say that it is Aczel's best book to date.

Amazon.com info
Paperback 288 pages  
ISBN: 0743464796
Salesrank: 1790185
Weight:0.84 lbs
Published: 2004 Washington Square Press
Amazon price $13.91
Marketplace:New from $9.00:Used from $1.62
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 288 pages  
ISBN: 0743464796
Salesrank: 1323754
Weight:0.84 lbs
Published: 2008 Simon and Schuster
Amazon price £14.99
Marketplace:New from £9.99:Used from £0.55
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Amazon.ca info
Paperback 288 pages  
ISBN: 0743464796
Salesrank: 2207325
Weight:0.84 lbs
Published: 2004 Washington Square Press
Amazon price CDN$ 23.15
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 18.16:Used from CDN$ 8.26
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Product Description
He was neither a mathematician nor a trained physicist and yet Léon Foucault always knew that a mysterious force of nature was among us. Like Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, and others before him, Foucault sensed a dramatic relationship between the rotating skies above and the seemingly motionless ground beneath our feet. But it wasn't until 1851 -- in Paris, inside the Panthéon, and in the company of fellow amateur scientist Napoleon III -- that Foucault swung a pendulum and demonstrated an extraordinary truth about the world: that it turns on its axis.
Pendulum is a fascinating journey through the mind and findings of one of the most important and lesser-known characters in the history of science. Through careful research and lively anecdotes, world-renowned author Amir D. Aczel reveals the astonishing range and breadth of Foucault's discoveries. For, in addition to offering the first unequivocal proof of Earth's rotation, Foucault gave us the modern electric compass and microscope, was a pioneer in photographic technology, and made remarkable deductions about color theory, heat waves, and the speed of light.
At its heart, Pendulum is a story about the illustrious period in France during the Second Empire; the crucial triumph of science over religion; and, most compelling, the life of a struggling, self-made man whose pursuit of knowledge continues to inform our notions about the universe today.