Some eighty percent of all scientists from earliest recorded time to modern times have lived and functioned during the twentieth century. Alan Lightman, an accomplished physicist who has taught at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a knowledgeable scientist and gifted creative writer whose novels include Einstein's Dreams (1993) and Reunion (2003), focuses on some of these scientists and their discoveries.
In The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science, Lightman identifies what he considers two dozen of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century and reproduces the scientific papers that announced to the world these discoveries that range from quantum theory to radio waves to unraveling DNA. He considers world-class scientists like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, James D. Watson, Francis H. C. Crick, Niels Bohr, Henrietta Leavitt, Alexander Fleming, and Edwin Hubble.
Despite the importance of such discoveries as special relativity, penicillin, nuclear fission, the quantum atom, and DNA, few general readers have read the scientific papers reporting these discoveries. Lightman reproduces such papers and provides well written, lucid commentary on most of them.
Lightman's skill as a writer distinguishes this book, making it accessible to the general audience the author wishes to reach. The Discoveries will provide many general readers with the impetus to read further in scientific papers like those Lightman presents in this remarkable book, which is greatly enhanced by its extensive illustrations and by interesting biographical asides that Lightman provides about many of the scientists whose work he includes in this varied collection.