Review: why does E=mc2? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

why does E=mc2 ?

A science book once in a while between others doesn't hurt that bad. In fact it makes your realize how fast the world and the universe are changing while you are lost amongst the pages. In school days, the famed equation E=mc2 was derived or rather thrust upon me after few rudimentary equations. I never went beyond solving the odd mass-into-energy problems and rarely when it was to be used in chemistry or physics (I can't even remember) numerical. Einstein's personality has been moulded in such a way that he seems too great and intelligent to be only a human. And when he does appear human in his patchy white hair with a protruding bulbous tongue it only fascinates us to discover that, ah, he's just like us.

This book starts with the premise - conjecture would be a better word - that most of us haven't really cared to find out why E equates to only M and C squared and why not anything else. Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw have written a book that is simple, very simple, in the language and yet using only Pythagoras' theorem and speed-time-distance equations they arrive at the mystical non-alphabetic arrangement of the three letters: C,E,M. Yes, and a number too. They also debunk the 'brand Einstein' that has been created in popular media - he was always well connected with the scientific community and engaged in discussions with them on a regular basis. 'An obscure clerk arriving at an elegant equation' is too jaded a theory to be believed now.

The first three chapters are the best chapters of the book because in these they generate curiosity out of thin air. 'Thin air' is actually a wrong term, because 65 billion neutrinos pass per second through a square centimeter area perpendicular to the Sun every second. Your air can still be thin if you like it that way though. The next two chapters result in the derivation of the equation in multiple ways, which the authors say is truly astonishing since we ended up with the same results from different views of looking at things. And the last three chapters delve deeper into the universe of electrons, protons, positrons, neutrinos, muons; quarks, black holes, warped spacetime; the psi, sigma, theta and what not; CERN - yes it created waves in the media last year for the Higgs Boson experiment; and finally their personal reflections that these theories have been great and have stood the test of time and experiments but could well be disproved in the future for that is the nature of science - to unearth inevident truths around us.

Some of the sections are not as clear as the first three chapters and somehow in some places the examples and analogies take you on a voyage different than the original question for which it was undertaken in the first place. This one makes for an interesting read for students and the rest alike. Hardcore science nerds may not be too impressed, however they would only stand to gain from it. At the same time don't expect to wake up after having left physics years ago - or worse: never touched it - and suddenly attain nirvana of the mysteries of E=MC2. I would need one more reading to appreciate completely what all has been written in the book: always be hungry to drink milk of knowledge from the vessel of the universe - just like the cat on the front cover!

To add: if you read the above review in 3 minutes then you have already traveled more than 5000 kilometers in the Earth's orbit. And you thought reading was a lazy activity!

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