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Great Calculations

A Surprising Look Behind 50 Scientific Inquiries

Colin Pask


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Science is based not only on observation and experiment, but on theory as well. As Einstein said, “Theory tells us what to measure.” And theories are often crystallized into succinct calculations, like those made using Einstein's famous E = mc2. This book looks at fifty such great calculations, exploring how and why they were developed and assessing their impact on the history of science.

As the author shows, many significant scientific calculations are quite simple and fairly easy to understand, even for readers will little math background. But their implications can be surprising and profound.

For example, what links a famous comet and the cost of an annuity? Why do scientists claim there is “dark matter” in the universe if it can’t be observed? How does carbon-based life on Earth depend on a quirk of nuclear physics? The answer to each question is an illuminating calculation. 

This accessible, engaging book will help you understand these breakthroughs and how they changed our view of life and the world.

Praise For Great Calculations: A Surprising Look Behind 50 Scientific Inquiries

"An insightful and expansive look into Isaac Newton's complex and illuminating 1687 publication on classical mechanics....Breaking the Principia down into easily digestible portions and suffusing his narrative with modern insights, Pask reveals the genius that built modern physics." --Publishers Weekly (reviewing Magnificent Principia)

"A summary of this type is overdue, as previous works are dated and less accessible.... Highly recommended for all science and mathematics enthusiasts, instructors, and readers." --Library Journal (reviewing Magnificent Principia)

"A welcoming, gentle excursion into interesting mathematical ideas.... Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers." --Choice (reviewing Math for the Frightened)

"One of my favorite books, and one that lends itself to careful reading....Magnificent Principia connects the pages of Newton's book to the reality of what we see." --io9

"It is a noble effort to help the math-challenged and it succeeds....a very entertaining and  enlightening experience." --Bookviews by Alan Caruba  (reviewing Math for the Frightened)

Prometheus Books, 9781633880283, 414pp.

Publication Date: July 7, 2015

About the Author

Colin Pask is the author of Magnificent Principia: Exploring Isaac Newton’s Masterpiece and Math for the Frightened: Facing Scary Symbols and Everything Else That Freaks You Out about Mathematics. He is an emeritus professor of mathematics and a visiting fellow and professor in the School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia.