How did one elegant theory incite a scientific revolution? Physicists have been exploring, debating, and questioning the general theory of relativity ever since Albert Einstein first presented it in 1915. Their work has uncovered a number of the universe’s more surprising secrets, and many believe further wonders remain hidden within the theory’s tangle of equations, waiting to be exposed.
Despite these pitfalls, general relativity has flourished, delivering key insights into our understanding of the origin of time and the evolution of all the stars and galaxies in the cosmos. Its adherents have revealed what lies at the farthest reaches of the universe, shed light on the smallest scales of existence, and explained how the fabric of reality emerges. Dark matter, dark energy, black holes, and string theory are all progeny of Einstein’s theory. We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us.
Published in the UK (Little Brown), US (Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt), Brazil (Companhia das Letras) Germany (C.H.Beck), Holland (Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep), Spain (Anagrama), Italy (Rizzoli), Greece (P. Travlos), Portugal (Presença), Poland (Proszynski Media), China (Hunan Science & Technology Press), Japan (NHK), Korea (Kachi Publishing), Taiwan (Commonwealth) Finland (Terra Cognita) and Russia.
Read an excerpt at Salon or listen to podcasts at the Guardian.
Comments and Reviews
couldn't ask for a better guide to the outer reaches of the universe and
the inner workings of the minds of those who've navigated it” —
Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of
Science at the University of Oxford and author of The Music of the
"This is a fascinating introduction to our present understanding of space, time, and gravity, and to the confusion about how to go about finding a still better theory. Ferreira tells the story without equations or graphs, just well-chosen words about the science and how it grew. I particularly recommend the sketches of scientists in all their curious variety of character traits” — James E. Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus. Professor of Physics, Emeritus
"Although Einstein’s general theory of relativity was undoubtedly the greatest of his many fundamental contributions to physics, it was comparatively little studied by physicists during his lifetime. However, after his death in 1955, the subject blossomed, particularly in the 1960s, leading to an excellent understanding of black holes, gravitational lensing, gravitational waves, and their profound implications for current cosmology and astrophysics. Surprisingly little has been written about the history of this post-Einstein period until now, so Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory it is especially welcome. It provides us with an enthralling account of the ideas and personalities of those who were involved.” — Sir Roger Penrose, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College
"Einstein's general relativity is a theory of unrivaled elegance and simplicity. But the history of general relativity is messy, unpredictable, and occasionally dramatic. Pedro G. Ferreira is an expert guide to the twists and turns scientists have gone through in a quest to understand space and time “— Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe
“The Perfect Theory is a rollicking good read. We watch as Einstein's brilliant successors struggle and squabble about everything from black holes to quantum gravity. With crisp explanations and narrative flair, Ferreira offers us a fun, fresh take on a magnificent part of modern science” — Steven Strogatz, Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University, and author of The Joy of x
"Pedro G. Ferreira portrays a community ensnared by a single great idea. His telling is incredibly thorough while still beautiful, deeply considered and affecting. With vivid detail, he brings to life the awesome story of one of humanity's greatest achievements” — Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College, Columbia University and author of How the Universe Got Its Spots
"With palpable delight, Ferreira details false starts, chance discoveries, and the vindication of long-ridiculed ideas that emerged from the work that predicted singularities, M-theory, and dark energy . . . Ferreira's clear explanations offer a wonderful look into a world of those who tackle the hard math that is "the key to understanding the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of . . . the cosmos." — Publishers Weekly
"No book better prepares armchair physicists for the intellectual excitement ahead!” — Booklist
"One of the best popular accounts of how Einstein and his followers have been trying to explain the universe for decades” — Kirkus Reviews
"Pedro G. Ferreira offers an accessible history of Einstein's theory of relativity in The Perfect Theory.” — Irish Times, Highlights of 2014 - Arminta Wallace
"Ferreira lucidly sketches several attempts to generalize Einstein’s theory, including string theory, which both describes gravity and offers an explanation of why it exists. Although enormously promising and mathematically rich, string theory is unpopular among some physicists in part because of the extreme difficulty of putting it to test, at least in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, good old general relativity — once regarded as too recondite to be worth studying — is now the framework for planning and interpreting many astronomical experiments, as Ferreira describes in a moving coda.”- Graham Farmelo, Nature
"The Perfect Theory is a good title for the book, with GR remaining our best example of a beautiful, powerful fundamental physical theory, based on the deepest mathematical ideas, with almost no free parameters. Ferreira does a great job of leading readers through the story so far of this amazing theory.”- Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong (Blog).
Ferreira has a writer’s sense for when he’s getting a bit too technical ... and always leavens the science with intriguing glimpses at the underlying psychological and sociological forces driving scientific progress."-Jesse Singal, Boston Globe.
“... it's been a heck of a century for relativity, and "The Perfect Theory" is a perfect guide for this most beloved branch of modern physics.”- Sam Kean, Wall Street Journal.
In The Perfect Theory, Ferreira masterfully portrays the science and scientists behind general relativity's star-crossed history and argues that even now we are only just beginning to realize its vitality as a tool for understanding the cosmos.” - Lee Billings, Scientific American
"Prof Ferreira is an outstanding storyteller, and the tales here reveal more about how science really works than any number of textbooks.”
is science's last and greatest challenge: fathoming the depths of the
night sky. The objective: to crack the cosmic code, to unravel the
blueprint for nature's grandest conception, a machine constructed on an
unimaginably vast scale - the Universe itself.
While offering a critical view of how all the pieces in our current model fit together, Pedro Ferreira argues that Einstein's Universe may be just another stepping stone towards a new, more profound and effective cosmology in the future.
Comments and Reviews
An intellectually exciting and eminently readable tour of cosmology. - Joseph Silk, Savilian Professor of Astronomy, University of Oxford.
Deeply interesting - THE GUARDIAN
Pedro Ferreira gives an expert tour of the universe we know and, even more fascinating, of the universe we don’t: a cosmos of unknown dark energy and dark matter, even dark dimensions. Beneath taut, economical prose, is warmth and charm. The result is a lovely and engaging book. - Janna Levin, Professor of Physics at Columbia University and Barnard College.
Authoritative, accurate, clear and up to date -THE INDEPENDENT
This book, beautifully and imaginatively written, was a revelation and inspiration. I never got beyond O level maths but I think I understood there is currently an intellectual battle going on between the idea of dark matter, slowing the Universe down, and dark energy pushing everything further apart. Meanwhile, in between, are elliptic nebulae, strings of misalignment, and lightpaths, through paving flags of space that’s never empty. I found it completely riveting. - Ruth Padel, poet and writer
Ferreira does a good job of balancing the likely with the improbable.- FINANCIAL TIMES
Clearly written, bang up to date, endlessly fascinating. Excellent. - Alex James, journalist, bassist in Blur.
A short, clear and logical introduction which assumes no background knowledge and uses simple analogies to explain unfamiliar ideas. - OXFORD TODAY
It is a clear, no-frills introduction to cosmology, just as Ferreira intended. - SKY AND TELESCOPE.