Brilliant Blunders

  • by Mario Livio
  • Narrated by Jeff Cummings
  • 9 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. Not even some of the greatest geniuses in history, as Mario Livio tells us in this marvelous story of scientific error and breakthrough.
Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field - but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel’s work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain’s leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the Earth. Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a "Big Bang" origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium - and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps.
These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on Earth, the evolution of the Earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress.
Brilliant Blunders is a singular tour through the world of science and scientific achievement - and a wonderfully insightful examination of the psychology of five fascinating scientists.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Easy to remember all the stories in the book

The author writes in a straightforward manner and explains the science in a highly entertaining manner. If I ever sit next to somebody in a waffle house who starts talking about his life stories, I can easily pivot into one of the five stories splendidly presented in this book. The writer was that good at telling the stories about the blunders, and having listened to it I can probably relate the whole book and it's major points without missing a beat. That tells me the book was well presented.

The narrator made the book better than the written book. I found some of his voices a real hoot, particularly Darwin and Einstein. I would definitely recommend the audible version versus the written form of this book.

For me, this book was a template for having worked in the real world surrounded around very smart people who would fall into the blunders that are illustrated by these five stories. I don't think the author realized how relevant the stories could be for most working stiffs and the kind of people we often have to work with.

Instead of picking Einstein's blunder as the cosmological constant, he should have picked Einstein's failure to accept quantum mechanics after having co-discovered it and wasting his time on the GUT (grand unified theorem) outside of the context of quantum physics. I know why he picked the cosmological constant. It's a funner story to relate and is more relevant today because of the mystery of Dark Energy, and the word blunder is not usually associated with that for Einstein and the cosmological constant is.

Overall, the stories are well presented, and it was narrated much better than it was written, but the author missed a great opportunity to make a better book about the foibles of life in general.
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- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"

Blunder Bust

The history of science aspects of this book are quite interesting but the incidents are tied together primarily by the somewhat odd concept of blunders thus seemed to me scattered and lacking the focus of a great history of science. I was not convinced by the author’s main point nor his distinction between good, but mistaken, science versus a scientific blunder. The author spends time demonstrating it was unlikely that Einstein actually said including the cosmological constant in general relativity was a blunder. The problem is I really didn’t care if Einstein actually said it was a blunder or not (and I still don’t know anyway). The author comments personally on the priority of some scientific claims (for example Lemaitre vs Hubble), that I felt were distracting at best. The author’s language was repeatedly sloppy. He throws around terms like “right” and “wrong” and “true” but points out elsewhere that science is not about these words. I have read more incisive histories of science and was familiar with almost all the science history presented here, and I did not find the history rehash enlightening nor the thesis compelling.

This is not at all a bad book. I just really like the histories of science and this one seemed less penetrating and less compelling than the best.
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- Michael "I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-14-2013
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio