Tom Levenson is a professor, a teacher of journalism and science journalism, and an Einstein scholar. He also knows a thing or two about Isaac Newton.
One of my favorite non fiction books of all time is Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. One of the reasons this book is so good is because the author is an expert on the subject and a great writer. These are not necessary or sufficient conditions to make a book good, but probabilistically, if you’ve got both you’ll probably be spending your book money well most of the time.
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to inform you that Levenson’s The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe is currently on sale, in Kindle form, for two bucks!
The Hunt For Vulcan brings together Levenson’s Einstein expertise and his Newton expertise and his expertise on other things to look at this interesting historical thread whereby Newton predicted the existence of Planet Vulcan, everybody looked for it but did not find it, and Einstein ultimately explains it all.
Little did any of them know that Vulcan does actually exist. In a galaxy far far away accessible only with a five year voyage …
To help you make your decision about spending this $1.99, here’s the publisher’s blurb. I do not know how long this deal will last so act before midnight!
The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed
For more than fifty years, the world’s top scientists searched for the “missing” planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era’s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it.
There was just one problem: It was never there.
In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton’s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan.
It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton’s theory of gravity itself. Einstein’s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the “discovery” of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein’s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century.
A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.