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Dealing with physics history at several different levels, Australian mathematician Arianrhod offers an intriguing blend of science, history, and biography. Noting that the widely admired Albert Einstein had his own scientific heroes-Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell-she explains the reasons for the great physicist's esteem. She especially pays detailed attention to Maxwell and his famous set of four equations that summed up the essence of electricity and magnetism and revealed that light itself is an electromagnetic phenomenon. Using the marvelous eventual success of Maxwell's equations, the author then reflects on the uncanny usefulness of mathematics in building models of physical discoveries and in predicting physical facts not yet revealed by experiments. (E.P. Wigner, a great modern physicist, has referred to the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.") Arianrhod's well-written, fascinating discussion of intertwined topics not usually presented in one book aimed at general readers is highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Admirably sketching the battle lines currently staked out over the idea of objective truth, a Cambridge professor of philosophy makes his subject lively and accessible even as he parts some of its deepest waters, with absolutists-traditionalists-realists on the one side and relativists-postmodernists-idealists on the other. The absolutists believe in "plain, unvarnished objective fact"; the relativists say with Nietzsche, "There are no facts, only interpretations." Blackburn scrutinizes the claims of both sides with a collegial but critical eye, carefully distinguishing positions and identifying places where the two sides are speaking past each other, covering, among others, Protagoras, Plato, Hume, James, Nagel, Wittgenstein, Locke, Rorty and Davidson. He constructs a simple diagram that makes sense of four contrasting attitudes toward truth: eliminativism, realism, constructivism and quietism. Out of this inquiry emerges a middle position: truth is real if accepted in a minimalist way; relativism is not necessarily incoherent; and we can respond to science with "well-mannered animation" that is indistinguishable from belief. As Blackburn recognizes, this solution will not please everyone: absolutists may find it treasonous, relativists too conservative. But the overall result is to salvage a plausible version of truth. Blackburn considers truth "the most exciting and engaging issue in the whole of philosophy," and, with wit and erudition, he succeeds in proving that point. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.