The cover of The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments

by George Johnson

Growing up believing I was destined to be a physicist, I got to learn a lot about the experiments in Johnson’s book. Michelson’s experiments to determine the speed of light, for example, are often used as exercises in early college-level physics classes. But Johnson manages to put the experiments in a more human context, describing the trial and error and frustration that is inherent in the process of designing experiments. The book, then, is more about problem-solving and mechanical ingenuity than it is about deep insights or flashes of inspiration.

The theme that ties these 10 experiments together is this: from time to time, an experimenter finds a way to exceed the technological limitations of their time, pushing ahead of the curve of what we expect to learn given the tools at our disposal.