Saturday, April 10, 2010

Staff Pick - Empire of the Stars by Arthur I. Miller

Empire of the Stars by Arthur I. Miller is one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in a very long time.

A fascinating mix of biography, history and science. It is primarily the story of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, better known as Chandra, an Indian mathematician/scientist who first postulated the existence of black holes. His life's journey from India to Cambridge, and ultimately onto the United States, is a tale of remarkable achievement and disappointment.

Of particular interest to me was the complex relationship between Sir Arthur Eddington and Chandra. Eddington was both a hero and villain to Chandra. At the time, Eddington was the preeminent astrophysicist in the world. For reasons slowly revealed in the book, he chose to challenge and discredit Chandra's theory of black holes.

The math and science aspects of the book are not overwhelming at all, primarily because understanding the specifics is not really necessary. This is definitely more a book of biography than one of math or science.

Author Arthur I Miller is superb in his ability as a writer. He mixes an incredible combination of scientific suspense, insightful biography and social history. Like other great science writers, Miller is able to bring together the many aspects of the topic and make it all very cohesive and digestible. Miller also introduces the reader to a host of other truly intriguing characters. People like Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, and Robert Oppenheimer, to name a few. There was certainly no lack of strong, eccentric personalities in the world of 20th century astrophysics.

I have already started a second book by Miller, Deciphering the Cosmic Number: the strange friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. I am half way through and I think it may be even better than Empire of the Stars? I'll keep you posted.

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