Gravity – Cracking the Cosmic Code

I’ve had to get in my specialist science reviewer again. It’s nice having all these complicated books come my way, but I have no wish to ruin what could be a perfectly good review by doing it myself. So, to kick off non-fiction month, here’s the Resident IT Consultant:

When I reviewed Nicholas Mee’s last book, Higgs Force, I mentioned that not much of his book was actually about the subject of the title. The same cannot be said for his new book, Gravity – Cracking the Cosmic Code. This book focuses much more tightly on its subject, following through the development of human understanding of gravity from classical times to relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. But unlike the Higgs boson, the subject of this book has already been explored by countless other writers. What makes this one special?

Nicholas Mee, Gravity - Cracking the Cosmic Code

The first half of the book covers the well-trodden path from Babylonia to Newton’s Principia. The story is well told, nicely illustrated and helpfully enriched by a series of short puzzles (with answers), which encourage the reader to engage more actively with the content. The text is well supported by copious notes and I particularly appreciated the cross-referencing of the notes to the pages to which they related (in many books you have to work out which chapter you are reading, before you can find the corresponding notes).

The second half of the book covers more recent developments including relativity, black holes, the role of symmetry in physical force, string theory and cosmology. This part of the book is more descriptive with fewer puzzles to test your understanding on. The clarity of explanation remains good but it gets progressively harder to keep up and I found that the chapter on string theory did not provide me with the same level of insight as the rest of the book.

Nicholas Mee’s book should be accessible to anyone with a basic understanding of science, and would be good background reading for a bright GCSE or A-level physics student. Mathematical concepts are well explained, but there is no real mathematics in the book and there were one or two places (for example the explanation of gravitational fields within a hollow Earth) where I would have welcomed a little more mathematics (perhaps in a note, or by following a reference).

Well, I’m glad the book was enjoyable – I love the title! – and I’m relieved the Resident IT Consultant didn’t quite get the string theory, either.

I will have more non-fiction during November. It will mainly be on a somewhat easier level.


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