E=mc2 by David Bodanis
8 April 2002


By now the reader must be wondering what it takes to please me in terms of literature, so I shall enlighten them.

In extremely general terms: non-fiction. To be slightly more specific, stories of great men and women on whome I can model my own life path; particularly scientists and mathematicians, although I am currently reading a biography of Rosa Parks.

The best book of this type that I have read so far this year is E=mc2: The biography of the world's most famous equation by David Bodanis. The only criticism I have of this book is that Bodanis did not reference his endnotes correctly, making it very difficult to tell what he is referring to when comments appear in the endnotes along the lines of "probably a purely apocryphal story, although it is known that he experimented with this".

It's a while since I read it, so when I think of it now I recall what were, for me, its best moments. I remember reading on the train home one afternoon, surrounded by sweltering February (writing this on a seven-degree April morning, I find that last phrase incredible) and trying and failing over and over to comprehend Bodanis's description of relativity. I remember hijacking my mother as she came in from work and following her about the house, raving (probably interminably so) about the combustion process inside the Sun. I remember reading, on the train once more, the sentence "matter is concentrated energy and energy is very diffuse matter" and seeing the whole world metamorphose into one of glowing heat and light before my eyes.

Here is what I love about books like these: They give me the feeling that the universe is falling into slow and beautiful order around my head. Fiction can never do more than move between the pieces of the disordered universe.


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