Review: The Hunt For Vulcan

If you enjoy learning about astronomy and/or physics, this is the book for you!

Hunt for Vulcan

Summary

The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed

For more than fifty years, the world’s top scientists searched for the “missing” planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era’s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it.

There was just one problem: It was never there.

In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton’s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan.

It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton’s theory of gravity itself. Einstein’s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the “discovery” of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein’s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century.

A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.

Length: 256 Pages

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: November 3, 2015

About the Author

Thomas Levenson

Thomas Levenson is a professor at MIT and head of its science writing program. He is the author of several books, including Einstein in Berlin and Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. He has also made ten feature-length documentaries (including a two-hour Nova program on Einstein) for which he has won numerous awards.

Review

Space has always fascinated me, as it has for most people over the centuries, so I was very excited to read The Hunt for Vulcan. I have also been vaguely familiar with Einstein’s theory of relativity, and was equally excited to gain a greater understanding of his contributions to the scientific community.

From the beginning of The Hunt for Vulcan, it is apparent that Thomas Levenson knows his stuff. Really, really well. He begins with Newton and sets up this complex background of discovery that leads to the creation of the planet Vulcan. I say creation, because one of the principles we take away from the book is that we, as human beings, see what we think SHOULD be there.

Vulcan needed to be where it was in order to not contradict Newton’s theory of gravity. And so, it was discovered there.

What a profound thought. Think on that a bit.

Einstein was one of the only people brave enough to challenge Newton and the traditional theory of gravity, by presenting his own theory. The Theory of Relativity. Now, I am going to stop there and not explain what that means. You will need to read the book if you want to understand the Theory of Relativity deeper.

Why? Because I’m not sure I completely understand it still.

As interesting and well-written as this book is, I thought it would be a little bit more accessible for those of us who do not have backgrounds in physics and/or astronomy. And frankly, it was probably as simple as Thomas Levenson could make it. But it still blew my mind. There are many references to scientific terms, descriptions, and equations, that I simply struggled understanding. The bending of space and time left my brain a little worse for wear, I think.

The closest I came to understanding Einstein’s theory, was from Einstein himself. He knew how to take these complex ideas and present them with analogies and pictures that an every day person could understand. Many pictures and charts are included in the book, which is very helpful.

Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Content: There is no offensive language in this book, violence, or sexual content

Availability:

The Hunt for Vulcan is available digitally, in hardback, as well as an audio CD. You can purchase it by clicking the image below. Happy Reading!

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