Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Clockwork Universe, by Edward Dolnick

The Clockwork Universe

By Edward Dolnick

            I have started looking for “classics” for my daughter and I to read when she gets into middle and high school years.   If you have not yet read my blog about A Thomas Edison Education, then I highly recommend for you to read it so you understand my purpose for looking for educational classics (of course, I recommend you read the BOOK, too, not just my blog!

          In the Thomas Edison book, I was surprised to discover that there were “classic” books in every field of study, not only in literature, and so I started a quest to discover books written by the “great minds” of history.  The first which I found was a book written by Euclid.  Since that book was written by him, with notes added by another, more modern mathematician, I had no idea who he was or why I wanted to read about what he said about the subject of Math – it was simply the first name on a list which I made of names to look for.  While I learned a fabulously easy way to find the Greatest Common Factor, the rest was difficult for me to follow. I would not recommend reading Euclid to begin reading about the classics (although I discovered that the MOST boring parts of the book were not actually Euclid’s writing at all, but instead were the writings of the person who chose to edit his works!).  I will probably eventually go back to him, but I’m not ready yet (and my daughter certainly isn’t!).

             The book I am reviewing today, The Clockwork Universe by Edward Dolnick, was my second attempt to discover a Mathematical Classic.  I think I struck gold! 

            It is not that this book is an especially deep thinking book (thankfully! – I don’t think I was ready for another of those so soon!).  What struck me as exciting about using this book for our homeschooling instruction in middle school years is that this book tells me about several of the mathematical geniuses.  I have heard of Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle, Kepler, and Galileo.  Descartes’s name came up in some of my reading, though I couldn’t remember EVER having seen his name before my recent readings.  I knew that between the 1600’s and the 1900’s there had been a lot of changes in the way Science and Mathematics were viewed, but I quickly discovered that I had never really read or been taught about any of that in any depth. 

            TheClockwork Universe, I believe, is a good book to start with in educating your children about Mathematical and Scientific classics.  It gives a brief biography of these early geniuses, and allows us to see a brief glimpse of how their thought processes worked.  It shows how in their day, science and math were not separate subjects of study.  They were also not designed to be taught separate and apart from the real world, but instead, the real world demonstrates daily what math and science prove.  Most importantly, to me at least, it does not take today’s view of ignoring a person’s religion altogether when writing about what a person did in his life.   Whether or not he agrees that the God of the Bible is the one and only true God, Edward Dolnick acknowledges throughout the book that these great scientists believed that, and a good many of their experiments and discoveries were designed to prove what they already believed. They saw beauty in the orderly system of nature, and fully believed that only a divine being who was much greater than we are could have created so much precision and beauty. 

            The Clockwork Universe tells me who these people called geniuses actually were, why they did the experiments they did, what serious mistakes they made, what serious misconceptions they maintained through part or all of their lives, and who their contemporaries were.  It tells how the bubonic plague affected many of these men, either directly or indirectly, and gives some insight as to each person’s personality.  I can use this information as a springboard to dive into other studies in the future, this time understanding a little better who I will be reading about and knowing why I care what they have to say.

            Whether you’re homeschooling, helping a child who attends public or private school, or just interested in learning more on your own, The Clockwork Universe gives interesting insight into the men who helped advance our mathematics and sciences into the technological advances which we have today.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like just our speed! I've requested it from the library :-)