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The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . and How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

Thomas Levenson

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Random House
03 November 2015
Mathematics & Sciences; History of science
The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed For more than fifty years, the world s top scientists searched for the missing planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it. There was just one problem: It was never there. In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan. It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton s theory of gravity itself. Einstein s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the discovery of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century. A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science. Praise for The Hunt for Vulcan Delightful . . . a charming tale about an all-but-forgotten episode in science history. The Wall Street Journal Engaging . . . At heart, this is a story about how science advances, one insight at a time. But the immediacy, almost romance, of Levenson s writing makes it almost novelistic. The Washington Post Captures the drama of the tireless search for this celestial object. Science A well-structured, fast-paced example of exemplary science writing. Kirkus Reviews (starred review) A short, beautifully produced book that tells a cautionary tale . . . Levenson is a breezy writer who renders complex ideas in down-to-earth language. The Boston Globe An inspiring tale about the quest for discovery. Walter Isaacson Equal to the best science writing I ve read anywhere, by any author. Beautifully composed, rich in historical context, deeply researched, it is, above all, great storytelling. Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe Levenson tells us where Vulcan came from, how it vanished, and why its spirit lurks today. Along the way, we learn more than a bit of just how science works when it succeeds as well as when it fails. Neil deGrasse Tyson Science writing at its best. This book is not just learned, passionate, and witty it is profoundly wise. Junot Diaz
By:   Thomas Levenson
Imprint:   Random House
Dimensions:   Height: 185mm,  Width: 124mm,  Spine: 25mm
Weight:   295g
ISBN:   9780812998986
ISBN 10:   0812998987
Pages:   256
Publication Date:   03 November 2015
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Thomas Levenson is a professor at MIT and head of its science writing program. He is the author of several books, including Einstein in Berlin and Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World s Greatest Scientist. He has also made ten feature-length documentaries (including a two-hour Nova program on Einstein) for which he has won numerous awards.

Reviews for The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . and How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe

Advance praise for The Hunt for Vulcan This delightful and enlightening drama tells the story of the hunt for a planet that did not exist and how Einstein resolved the mystery with the most beautiful theory in the history of science. The Hunt for Vulcan is an inspiring tale about the quest for discovery and the challenges and joys of understanding our universe. Walter Isaacson The Hunt for Vulcan is equal to the best science writing I ve read anywhere, by any author. Beautifully composed, rich in historical context, deeply researched, it is, above all, great storytelling. Levenson gives a true picture of the scientific enterprise, with all its good and bad guesses, wishful thinking, passion, human ego, and desire to know and understand this strange and magnificent cosmos we find ourselves in. Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe The forgotten story of Vulcan could no longer remain untold. Tom Levenson tells us where it came from, how it vanished, and why its spirit lurks today. Along the way, we learn more than a bit of just how science works when it succeeds as well as when it fails. Neil deGrasse Tyson Thomas Levenson s brilliance as a writer is in setting the evolution of scientific ideas into their appropriate historical contexts, allowing us to see their wider implications. In this engaging, informative book, laced with lovely anecdotes, Levenson elegantly teaches us about both the laws of physics and the less law-abiding ways in which physics advances occur. Lisa Randall, professor of physics, Harvard University, andauthor of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs The Hunt for Vulcan is science writing at its best. As Levenson unravels the history, the drama, and, yes, the physics behind the now-forgotten Vulcan, he also shows how science actually advances in our world and, in the process, reveals how none of our endeavors even our most empirical are immune to our penchant for self-deception. This book is not just learned, passionate, and witty it is profoundly wise. Junot Diaz Thomas Levenson tells the tale of Newton, Einstein, and the missing planet Vulcan with verve, showing how observations and calculations clashed in a battle that decided the fate of the universe. Sean Carroll, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe Scorched and blackened by the fires of the Sun, Vulcan is the innermost planet that never was. Thomas Levenson illuminates the untold story of a world concocted to explain a planetary anomaly whose existence heralded a shocking new picture of space and time. Packed with colorful anecdotes, this is a vivid, well-paced, thoroughly enjoyable tale of human delusion and ultimate scientific triumph. Marcus Chown, author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You


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