Non-Fiction Reviews


(2001) David Bodanis, Pan, 6.99, pbk, 330pp, ISBN 0-330-39165-8

Bodanis' inspiration for this book, he tells us in the introduction, was a quote from an interview with actress Cameron Diaz, at the conclusion of which she was asked if there was anything she wanted to know. Apparently she wished to know what the famous equation actually meant. So this, then, is a 'biography' of that equation, from its birth, through definitions of its terms, to its applications in the real world and its possible uses in the future. On the whole I'd have to say the book is a bit flimsy; after all, there is only so much you can say about an equation per se. However, for the student with an O-level (junior high school) education, or the merely curious, the book does provide a good overview of a particular aspect of relativistic physics. The book really ends at about page 204, but the epilogue, appendix and notes are quite interesting in their own right, and may inspire further reading. Bodanis' style has great clarity, but the heart of this book is in the human stories that accompany the equation's genesis and application, including (as George Walden of the Sunday Telegraph points out) the oft-overlooked women. This is not a great book, but it is a good one, and I happily recommend it to anyone seeking a context for the ubiquitous equation.

Tony Chester

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