We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Not even some of the greatest geniuses in history, as Mario Livio tells us in this marvelous story of scientific error and breakthrough.
Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field - but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel’s work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain’s leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the Earth. Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a "Big Bang" origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium - and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps.
These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on Earth, the evolution of the Earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress.
Brilliant Blunders is a singular tour through the world of science and scientific achievement - and a wonderfully insightful examination of the psychology of five fascinating scientists.
©2013 Marie Livio (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The author writes in a straightforward manner and explains the science in a highly entertaining manner. If I ever sit next to somebody in a waffle house who starts talking about his life stories, I can easily pivot into one of the five stories splendidly presented in this book. The writer was that good at telling the stories about the blunders, and having listened to it I can probably relate the whole book and it's major points without missing a beat. That tells me the book was well presented.
The narrator made the book better than the written book. I found some of his voices a real hoot, particularly Darwin and Einstein. I would definitely recommend the audible version versus the written form of this book.
For me, this book was a template for having worked in the real world surrounded around very smart people who would fall into the blunders that are illustrated by these five stories. I don't think the author realized how relevant the stories could be for most working stiffs and the kind of people we often have to work with.
Instead of picking Einstein's blunder as the cosmological constant, he should have picked Einstein's failure to accept quantum mechanics after having co-discovered it and wasting his time on the GUT (grand unified theorem) outside of the context of quantum physics. I know why he picked the cosmological constant. It's a funner story to relate and is more relevant today because of the mystery of Dark Energy, and the word blunder is not usually associated with that for Einstein and the cosmological constant is.
Overall, the stories are well presented, and it was narrated much better than it was written, but the author missed a great opportunity to make a better book about the foibles of life in general.
No B.S. reviews. I'll never soft-pedal bad writing or inept narration.
This book has been sitting on my iPod for months, as I listen to book after book, occasionally re-visiting it, trying to enjoy it from any possible perspective. I give up. I'm not going to finish it. The reading style is completely demeaning. Even if the content were intelligently presented, which is both impossible to tell—and very, very unlikely—the reading makes this book completely unlistenable. Come to think of it, the content is strangely presented, so that it's not very interesting either. This from a science history buff who usually enjoys just this kind of fare.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
The history of science aspects of this book are quite interesting but the incidents are tied together primarily by the somewhat odd concept of blunders thus seemed to me scattered and lacking the focus of a great history of science. I was not convinced by the author’s main point nor his distinction between good, but mistaken, science versus a scientific blunder. The author spends time demonstrating it was unlikely that Einstein actually said including the cosmological constant in general relativity was a blunder. The problem is I really didn’t care if Einstein actually said it was a blunder or not (and I still don’t know anyway). The author comments personally on the priority of some scientific claims (for example Lemaitre vs Hubble), that I felt were distracting at best. The author’s language was repeatedly sloppy. He throws around terms like “right” and “wrong” and “true” but points out elsewhere that science is not about these words. I have read more incisive histories of science and was familiar with almost all the science history presented here, and I did not find the history rehash enlightening nor the thesis compelling.
This is not at all a bad book. I just really like the histories of science and this one seemed less penetrating and less compelling than the best.
Jeff Cummings often blunders in his pronunciations of both scientific words such as helical, and of the names of many well known scientists.
I'd start with Einstein and cosmology and finish with Darwin.
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
I didn't find anything to dislike.
It inspired me to make a salami and cheese sandwich while listening. Does that count?
It's a good book and fascinating subject, but brother does it need gravy.
I feel smarter for having listened to this. Wonderfully explained concepts that have previously flown over my head, put into enjoyably human context.
I did listen to the entire recording while exercising. The book is so redundant that I would not have read it in print, but it was easy to half listen as I did other things. I found that the story occupied my attention as I was often thinking about how it could have been improved.
At the book's core Livio mostly misses the point. Disprovable ideas propel great science. I think that Livio may know this, but he sets up these "blunders" as a negative. These "blunders" did not slow the advancement of their science. If anything, they accelerated the advancement of ideas by others in their fields.
Meh. Entertaining. The readers accents and mispronunciations made the listening more amusing.
Look for a better book on the same topic.
Livio should keep his day job and stop listening to the editor who guided the tone of this book. There is an interesting story to be told about how wrong ideas put forth by esteemed scientists advance the rest of the field. Unfortunately, it's not this book.
This is a wonderful complement to "Farewell to Reality". Both books are written by fully rounded and grounded scientists. Both are full of insights and highlight the human dimension of the science industry. This title builds the history and backdrop on the intellectual and social levels describing the achievements of modern science that we often take for granted and think they were always there for everyone.
Author writes as if he discovered what is a known part of these scientist's history. The narrator confuses talking in a lilt with a British accent.
This would have been some great story telling if the author did not get caught up in itty bitty details that just are over the head of a commoner such as myself.
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