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Book 4: The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity by Pedro G. Ferreira (2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books)]

Lisa’s Literature Lowdown – The Perfect Theory by Pedro G. Ferreira

Perfect TheoryAlbert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published nearly 100 years ago, explains the relationship between gravity, space and time. The theory provides “the key to understanding the history of the universe, origin of time, and the evolution of all the stars and galaxies in the cosmos,” according to Pedro G. Ferreira. His book, The Perfect Theory, tells the tale of how the theory was questioned, tested, modified and supported by a range of scientists. It is a book with gravity that pulls you in, describing what the theory has taught us so far, and what we may learn from it in the future.

Out of the sciences, physics is furthest from my comfort zone, but during my time in the Nature press office I have read and written about many weird, wonderful and complex physics papers. I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge and interest in the subject, thanks in part to the helpful Nature editors that have guided me through the trickier topics. The Perfect Theory helps to tie up some of the tougher subject matter by detailing how the theory has influenced the fields of astrophysics and quantum physics, among others.  Just one chapter is dedicated to describing how Einstein developed his general theory of relativity and the challenges he faced; the rest of the book looks at what happened next and describes the exciting discoveries that have shaped our understanding of the universe.

On the surface, The Perfect Theory is not a light read. It covers complex material, and jumps back and forth in time as it looks at the different way in which the theory was explored by a range of A-list physicists — from Arthur Eddington, one of the first scientists to experimentally confirm the predictions made by Einstein, to Stephen Hawking, who used the theory to make predictions about the properties of black holes. However, Ferreira manages to pull together each of the threads into an engaging read that carefully describes the new insights provided by the different ways in which the theory has been probed. He also paints a detailed picture of the various characters that have worked on the theory, giving the story real personality.

Ferreira concludes that the theory of general relativity is at the heart of 21st Century physics and astronomy, guiding the ongoing search for gravitational waves, efforts to build a telescope that can directly observe a black hole, and other projects that continue to probe the theory and learn what else it might tell us about the universe. Thus, The Perfect Theory provides more than just a history of general relativity and what it has taught us so far, as it also hints towards what the theory still has to offer.
About Lisa Boucher face
Lisa Boucher has been a Press Officer at Nature for nearly four years, having previously dabbled in the art of editing for the clinical Nature Reviews titles.


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