The Chemical Intelligencer, Volume 4, Number 2198, April 1998
One of the many gems in this volume is the following quotation from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "This asteroid has only once been seen through the telescope. That was by a Turkish astronomer, in 1909. On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in a Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said." As this example shows, not only physicists and astronomers are quoted in this volume, but many others too who had anything remarkable to say related to physics. In fact, delineating the scope of this book is somewhat of a problem, and this difficulty is compounded by the grouping of the quotations into 106 categories, from antimatter to X-rays.
The book contains a wealth of information. One finds quotations that one reads for one's own amusement, and others that one feels the urge to use again and again. The book is documented, listing references and permissions. Since the entries are arranged by rather narrow topics, the two indexes, "Subject by Author" and "Author by Subject" are helpful.
The compilers of this volume justly claim that they have collected many of the "jewels" that exist and ask for forgiveness for missed personal favorites. Nonetheless I would like to mention two omissions that I can't consider to be merely "personal" favorites but may be indicative of the holes in the net: for the section on the universe. Louis Pasteur's "L'univers ist dissymetrique" ["The universe is dissymmetric." Pasteur, L. C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris (June 1, 1874); quoted for example, by Haldane, J.B.S. Nature (London) 1960 185, 87] and for the section on symmetry, Pierre Curie's "C'est las dissymetrie qui cree le phenomene" [Dissymmetry creates the phenomenon," Curie, P. J. Phys. (Paris) 1894, 3, 393]. While the former has gained belated recognition since the discovery of the violation of parity, the Curie principle has been considered a fundamental tenet of symmetry considerations and has been quoted abundantly.
Unfortunately, the "Author by Subject" index is full of minor inconsistencies. This results partly from an overzealous effort to classify the authors. Curiously, Mao Tse-tung (rather than Mao Zedong) is labeled as a Chinese Marxist theorist, and many may wish he had stayed merely a theorist.
Incidentally, Mao Zedong is quoted in the section on symmetry (p. 296), "Tell me why should symmetry be of importance?", and the date, during the "Cultural Revolution," he asked this question is given (May 30, 1974), but no further information is provided as to the source. Mao Zedong asked this question of visiting Nobel laureate physicist Tsung-Dao Lee, who then described this encounter repeatedly [Lee, T. D. The Sciences. January-February 1988, p. 88: Lee, T.D. Symmetries, Asymmetries, and the World of Particles: Washington University Press: Seattle and London, 1988: p. xi.]
In spite of its shortcomings, which could easily be addressed in a new edition, this book is bound to become successful because of the riches of its contents. The Institute of Physics Publishing had published a very successful and superb book of scientific quotations before the present volume was produced [Mackay, A.L. A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations: published under the Adam Hilger imprint by IOP Publishing Ltd.: Bristol Philadelphia, and New York, 1991 (Second Edition)]. Curiously, there is no mention of it in the book under review here.
Times Higher Education, May 1, 1998
The last time that I regularly reached for a book of quotations was when I was an active member of a debating team. Proposing motions such as "this house believes that life is a bowl of cherries" clearly called for all the assistance one could muster. Humorous quotations came in very handy, and it was amazing how often a telling phrase from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling or Ogden Nash fitted the bill.
Lecturing on astronomy and physics, however, rarely calls for the pithy quote or the memorable sound bite, and the three gentlemen above had little to say on the two subjects. There was one exception of course. Oscar Wilde was rarely stumped for words and he accurately summed up the astronomer's lot by noting that "we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars".
The editors, C.C. Gaither and A.E. Cavazos-Gaither, have rounded up some 2,000 astronomy and physics quotations from a wide range of literary, poetic and scientific sources. When it comes to sampling the vast literature of these two subjects it is clear that the selectors have a predilection for the profound and the wise. Illumination and pertinence are to the fore. Wit and humor is in short supply.
They have dragooned the quotations into sensible sections, with titles such as Antimatter, Atoms, Big Bang, Comets, Constellations, and so on. Much care has been taken over the correct attribution, and the reader is given all the necessary information to find the quote in the original source. Full bibliographic details are provided, as well as subject-by-author and author-by-subject indexes.
The editors portray physicists as a rather earnest and serious group. We are, for example, informed that "the main goal of physics is to describe the maximum number of phenomena with the minimum number of variables" and that physicists, "like theologians are wont to deny that any system is in principle beyond the scope of their subject". In contrast you have the more esoteric astronomer, "whose job is just to stand around and look at heavenly bodies".
Both professions are split into an observational and a theoretical branch and the members of these branches, as expected, enjoy being rude about their opposite number. As W.I.B. Beveridge said "no one believes an hypothesis except it originator but everybody believes an experiment except the experimenter." A more conciliatory Ray Lyttleton wrote that "observations are meaningless without a theory to interpret them."
Both professions have clearly been revolutionised in the last century. Astronomers have been taken over by astrophysicists and have seen their universe expanded enormously with the advent of space exploration and large telescopes. "Space, the final frontier", to quote Captain James T. Kirk; "TELESCOPE, a device...enabling distant objects to plague us with a multitude of needless detail," says Ambrose Bierce. Cosmology has leapt to the fore and cosmologists (who Yakov Zeldovich said "are often in error, but never in doubt") are portrayed as worrying whether T.S. Eliot was correct when he said: "This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper."
Steven Weinberg, clearly a cosmology fan, wrote that "the effort to understand the universe is one of the few things that lift human life a little about the level of farce, and give it some of the grace of tragedy."
The last century has also seen the physicists being introduced to the atom and the quantum and "the world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine". Physics has become much more complicated, but even so, to quote Bertrand Russell, "physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only mathematical properties that we can discover."
I enjoyed reading this book, and often found myself nodding sagely. I thought, however, that I chuckled too infrequently.
David Hughes is reader in astronomy, University of Sheffield.
Schools Science Review, June 1998
This book is an especially delightful anthology of quotations concerning physics and astronomy that have been culled from sources ranging in time and character from Aeschylus to the Russian astronaut Zel'Dovich.
Poetry, humor, history, fact and wisdom are found here on every page. If you become tired of dipping into its rich store for previously unknown gems, it is fun using the comprehensive index to discover which of your favorite quotations may have been omitted.
The Institute of Physics and the two American compilers have cooperated in producing a text that is appealing, readable, amusing and pleasingly free from any trans-Atlantic bias. The book merits the strongest recommendation and will probably encourage its readers to look for Statistically speaking, an earlier work by the same authors.
Frank Anstis Physics World, February 1998
One of the most enjoyable aspects of browsing through this dictionary is to find out what non-physicists have to say about physics and astronomy. In the film Getting Even, Woody Allen expressed the bewilderment that many people feel about the world in which we live. "Can we actually 'know' the universe?" he asked, "My God, it's hard enough finding your way around in Chinatown." Shakespeare, meanwhile wrote in Macbeth of the "labour we delight in physics pain", while the poet Alexander Pope decreed, "Ye Gods, annihilate but space and time/ And make two lovers happy."
The scriptwriters of Star Trek, however, seem to have changed their view of the subject over the years. Back in the 1960s, Scotty, the chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise, uttered the now famous words, "I canna change the laws of physics, Captain!" By the 1990s, Geordi from Star Trek: The Next Generation was forced to observe that "suddenly it's like the laws of physics went right out the window".
The book, of course, contains plenty of quotations from famous physicists, ranging from Einstein, Feynman and Hawking to Niels Bohr's famous quote that "anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it". William Bragg, meanwhile, said this about wave-particle duality in 1921: "On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we teach the wave theory and on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays the corpuscular theory." And the US particle theorist Frank Wilczek, wisely noted that "in physics you don't have to go around making trouble for yourself-nature does it for you".
Claiming to be the largest collection of quotations on physics and astronomy, the dictionary also allows connections between past and present to be made. Was the American astronomer, Virginia Trimble, inspired by Bragg when she said the following about the fate of the universe debate in 1988? "Those of us who are not directly involved in the fray can only suppose that the universe is open (Omega<1) on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and closed (Omega>1) on Thursday, Saturday and Monday. (Tuesday is choir practice.)"
Matin Durrani Sci. Tech. Book News, March 1998
The requisite sayings of Einstein, Feynman, Heisenberg, Planck, Newton and the like are nicely rounded with those of a diverse group of modern and classical poets, playwrights, philosophers, writers, mathematicians, and cosmologists--even Captain James T. Kirk gets a word in. Well-indexed entries are arranged according to subject.
Contemporary Physics, November-December 2000
'All physics is physics or stamp collecting' was the definition of physics given by Rutherford. Kirk Dilorenzo prefers 'Physics is the interrelationship of everything'. In this volume you will find all the quotations you will ever need relating to all aspects of physics. They are listed under about 100 topics, e.g. Experiment (Beveridge: '...no one believes an hypothesis except its originator but everyone believes an experiment');
god (Dirac: 'God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world'); Fusion (Unknown: 'A day without fusion is like a day without sunshine') and son on. The compilers have made every effort to trace original sources and the book is well prepared, with a lengthy bibliography, subject by author index and author by subject index, so finding the quotation you want should be relatively straightforward. All the famous names you would expect to see are there, with many witty as well as serious quotations. I was a little surprised to see one from Scotty on Star Trek 'But I canna change the laws of physics, Captain!'. Many are one-liners, but there are lots of longer quotations too, with several over a page in length (e.g. Umberto on the pendulum and a very entertaining statement of 'The cartoon laws of physics', including 'Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation' and 'The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights of stairs to attempt to catch it unbroken'). In summary, this is a well assembled, interesting and entertaining book which many people will enjoy.