Book in Focus
A History of Physics over the Last Two Centuries"/>

05th August 2022

Book in Focus
A History of Physics over the Last Two Centuries

By Alessandra Gliozzi and Ferdinando Gliozzi

This work, following on from, and completing, the preceding volume A History of Physics from Antiquity to the Enlightenment, introduces the main discoveries in the fields of optics, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. It also considers developments in modern physics, from molecules to atoms and their nuclei, and from relativity to quantum mechanics.

An entire chapter is dedicated to the fundamental works of Michel Faraday and James Clark Maxwell on electromagnetism.  It also provides a detailed reconstruction of the series of arguments that led Maxwell to his theory of the electromagnetic nature of light, concluding with the famous statement: “We can scarcely avoid the inference that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.”

There is, of course, ample space dedicated to Einstein and to relativity (both the special and the general theory). In addition, the ensuing Nazi revisionism is analysed: “After World War I, the Nazis, led by Philipp Lenard, who in 1905 had received the Nobel Prize for Physics, spread the belief (especially among Germans) that mass-energy equivalence had been already established in 1904, that is, prior to Einstein, by Friedrich Hasenöhrl (1874-1915), a Viennese physicist. This was a huge falsehood, prompted by hatred of the Jewish Einstein”.

There is also a fascinating account of the birth and development of quantum mechanics, full of surprising changes of tack, false starts, wrong answers and intuitions of genius. One of the first architects of this revolutionary theory was the young French physicist Louis De Broglie (1892-1987): “All of a sudden, through a psychological process that he acutely analysed in a semi-autobiographical work, at the end of the summer of 1923 he experienced a sort of crystallisation of thought: ‘the spirit of the researcher instantly beholds, with great clarity … the grand outlines of new ideas that had been obscurely formed inside him, and he gains, in an instant, the absolute certitude that the employment of these ideas will allow the resolution of the majority of the problems posed and clear up the whole question, shedding light on analogies and harmonies that had hitherto been ignored’.”

Quoting sources with clarity and rigour, the author provides an admirable and exhaustive history of physics, covering the last two centuries. The clear and direct style allows non-specialised readers to grasp the essence of the matter, while experts will appreciate a treatise that is always based on the study of original sources. A careful reading of this book will allow a re-discovery of the most significant results of research in modern physics and also to discern which texts merit deeper study.

The obvious desire of the author, to fill the many gaps in the bibliography of the history of science, is running throughout this work. The simple and straightforward style, coupled with a detailed knowledge of the minutia of the original texts, constitute the real worth of Gliozzi as an historian—a scholar prepared to spend hours and hours in the library poring over long and complex texts line by line.

Following the death of Mario Gliozzi, his son and daughter discovered a voluminous typescript, the result of unceasing research over the past 20 years. He had spent long hours daily consulting ancient texts in one of the private rooms in the National Library of Turin, reading the old scientific works held there.

It is extraordinary that four members of the Gliozzi family have contributed to the realisation of this volume: Mario (1899-1977), who wrote the original text in Italian, based on years of profound study and research; Alessandra (University of Genoa) and Ferdinando (University of Turin) who edited the first Italian edition (Storia della Fisica  [A History of Physics], 2005) and this two-volume version in English; and the great-grandson Jacopo (PhD in Physics, University of Urbana-Champain, Illinois, USA,) who translated this second volume.

Mario Gliozzi was born in Ardore (Reggio Calabria, Italy) in 1899. He moved to Turin in 1920 and graduated in Engineering at the Polytechnic; shortly after, he was awarded a degree in Physics by the University of Turin. He started teaching in high schools and met the brilliant mathematician Giuseppe Peano, for whom he had great admiration and affection. It was under Peano’s influence that he became interested in the study of the history of science and began his first historical researches.

During World War II, Mario Gliozzi played an active part in the Resistance movement against fascism and was a member of the National Liberation Committee (CLN) for Schools.

Mario Gliozzi was a Historian of Science, and published a number of historical studies in national and international journals and books. His major opus is the History of Physics, published posthumously in Italy in 2005.

Alessandra Gliozzi is Full Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Genoa, Italy. A leader of many research projects, she is author of several papers in international journals on the area of biophysics of membranes and their interactions with proteins.

Ferdinando Gliozzi is Emeritus Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Turin, Italy. He is author of several papers in international journals on the areas of high energy physics, elementary particles and string theory.

A History of Physics over the Last Two Centuries is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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