Category Archives: General Information

Great review of Gravity’s Century in Wall Street Journal!

Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured a great review of my book:

In “Gravity’s Century” (Harvard, 181 pages, $26.95), science journalist Ron Cowen takes the long view. His brisk, engaging narrative leads us from Einstein’s famous “thought experiments” through theorists’ many (so far unsuccessful) attempts to marry quantum mechanics with general relativity, and up to recent (more successful) efforts to observe gravitational waves and black holes.

Explanations of key concepts in physics are interspersed with breezy biographical sketches of key figures in their development. Some tales—like the story of Einstein imagining what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam—are familiar. But Mr. Cowen’s book also introduces us to the prehistory of general relativity, featuring less-known characters like János Bolyai and Nikolai Lobachevsky, whose insights transformed geometry and set the stage for Einstein. A “deeper dive” accompanies each chapter, providing technical and historical asides for more earnest readers.

“Gravity’s Century,” like the other two books but more succinctly, recounts earlier eclipse expeditions aimed at testing the light-bending prediction. These included the misadventure that befell German astronomer Erwin Finlay-Freundlich and his colleagues. Encouraged by Einstein himself, they had traveled to Crimea to observe a 1914 eclipse, but when the war broke out were arrested as enemy aliens and had their telescopes confiscated. The researchers were released in a prisoner exchange, but the Russians held on to their equipment for much longer. As Mr. Cowen explains, the foiled excursion “proved lucky for Einstein. Late in 1915 he realized that the correct deflection of starlight was actually twice what he had calculated in 1911, before he had fully developed his new theory of gravity.” Finlay-Freundlich’s observations, had he been able to make them, would have seemed to contradict Einstein’s theory.

Ultimately, Einstein forged “a new way of thinking not just about gravity but about the universe,” as Mr. Cowen puts it. He refuted “long-held notions of space and time as featureless, silent spectators to the comings and goings in the universe.” A century later we continue to marvel at the awesome ramifications of Einstein’s radical notion.

Dilbert creator just cited my hologram news story

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, just cited my hologram story!

What Took Them So Long?

Scientist are coming closer to proving gravity is an illusion and the world is a hologram.

They could have just asked me.

I’m finishing my book tour in NYC today. Only one major embarrassment so far. The host of Bloomberg News, Pimm Fox, randomly opened my book and asked me to elaborate on a fairly unimportant page I wrote over a year ago. I had to confess on live TV that I didn’t remember part of my own book. Ouch.

Knight Science Journalism Tracker Recognition for Kepler Coverage

Knight Science Journalism Tracker kindly provided “special kudos” for my Nature News article about the known problems facing Kepler:

SPECIAL KUDOS to this one — Nature News – Ron Cowen: The wheels come off Kepler / Space telescope’s mission to find planets outside the Solar System is probably over ; Great hed, better content with an inquisitor’s tone. First however, it’s gotta be a tad weird being an American writer for Nature. One wonders if Ron, or one of the editors, made sure that the phrase familiar in American English as “checkered history” was rendered into the Brit-speak (ie real English) “chequered history.” But one or the other is what these reaction wheels have, he reports, and attributes it to Borucki who surely wasn’t thinking of the ..’qu..’ version when he said it. This should be the kick-off point for the upcoming and inevitable inquiry and search for lessons learned that may be underway already. Cowen’s list of missions whose engineers went without this kind of reaction wheel, deeming them too unreliable, is long enough to make one wonder. What were they thinking? The answer, to translate Cowen, is that they were thinking they’d better keep their fingers crossed. By the time they recognized the risks the spacecraft was already buttoned up and nearly ready for transport to the launch site.