The Fortunes, Foibles, and Fiascos of Those Who Sought to Understand Matter
by George Graybill
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From Archimedes’ bathtub to Schrödinger’s cat, the reader follows the dramatic and humorous events in the history of the ongoing struggle to understand the basic nature of matter and, in the process, painlessly absorbs all the major concepts of middle school physical science.
The structure of the book takes advantage of the fact that basic concepts about the nature of matter were discovered in roughly the same sequence they are taught. The book begins with the ancient Greeks, who first talked about atoms from a viewpoint that was more philosophical than scientific. The story of the next 2,000 years highlights the events and characters in the history of the study of matter. The book ends on the note that all the knowledge we have gained has led us back to asking philosophical questions such as, “Why does matter exist?” The tone is one of whimsy, weirdness, and irreverence. Although historical events are embellished or even completely fabricated for comic effect, it is always clear that the science is accurate. I see the book as a supplement to a middle school physical science class. It should appeal to students who can’t get enough of science and to those looking for something less boring than their textbook.