Newton, Maxwell, Einstein: What Were They Thinking?

Edmond Brown
Outskirts Press (2015)
ISBN 9781478759812
Reviewed by Erick Markley for Reader Views (05/17)

“Newton, Maxwell, Einstein: What Were They Thinking?” by Edmond Brown offers insight and discussion around the theories of these scientists that will facilitate the understanding of such theories and the significance of their accomplishments.

There are books that attempt to present the theories of physicists in plain English with little or no recourse to the relevant mathematical formulae. While this may appeal to some readers, it does wind up being a bit of a misrepresentation. The scientific renown of notable physicists is tied to the mathematical formulas that proved their theories. Many people know when they see E=MC2, that it is attributed to Einstein. Indeed, it is one of the more famous formulas of any physicist. The evidence for their theories is found in the math. An honest treatment of any physicist should also present this aspect of their work.

Edmond Brown does present the formulas and does attempt to break them down and simplify them. His attempt is not altogether successful, however; calculus is basically a language unto itself, and one has to spend some amount of time studying it in order to be proficient at it. One would probably have an easier time with this book if one has some acquaintance with physics and calculus already. I think the author did the best job he could and I commend him for the effort, but it is still a book that will have to be read more than once, or possibly, used as a supplement for a college course in calculus and/or physics.

Aside from the difficulties of following the math, there is definitely some great information in here. Isaac Newton, being the pioneer that he was, is given the most space here. More than half the book is dedicated to him alone. James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein are given a smaller percentage of coverage in the book. This doesn't seem to be a noticeable lack though. Because so much of the groundwork was laid by Newton, covering him thoroughly prepares one for everything that came later. Even though the book is primarily dedicated to Newton, Maxwell and Einstein, the author does refer to the theories of other notable physicists as well, e.g. Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger etc.

I give “Newton, Maxwell, Einstein: What Were They Thinking?” by Edmond Brown the highest rating (five stars), but with some caveats. While the author does attempt to simplify the theories of Newton, Maxwell and Einstein, saying that it is a book for the layman, or laywoman, would be a bit of a stretch. It is really a great primer on classical physics. It is not always an easy read, but as a summary, I think it gets the job done.

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