Book Review: Adding a Dimension

Adding a Dimension by Isaac Asimov.

The previous entry in this series, View from a Height, contained four sections on physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry. The third F&SF collection, Adding a Dimension, has all of those plus a lengthy (seven chapter) first part on mathematics. There’s also a concluding essay that’s put under a General heading.

The mathematics section includes essays on large numbers, number systems like binary and decimal, infinity and transfinite numbers, \displaystyle \pi, geometrical constructions with a compass and straightedge, imaginary and complex numbers, and the metric system. All solid reads.

The remaining sections, due to the length of the mathematics section, are fairly short at only two or three essays per section. The physics sections deals with the luminiferous ether, the Michelson-Morley experiment, and the electromagnetic spectrum. In the chemistry section there’s an essay where Asimov puts forward a candidate for the defining experiment that started modern chemistry as well as “You, Too, Can Speak Gaelic” on the naming of organic compounds (similar to his World of Carbon book). The biology section touches on Gregor Mendel and the laws of inheritance followed up by a chapter on blood types (and how there’s many more than just A, B, AB, and O). For the final section on astronomy, there’s an essay dispelling the popular misconception that the ancients and medievalists thought the Earth was flat (and how our knowledge of the actual size and shape of the Earth has narrowed in over time) and another on white dwarfs.

The final chapter is entitled “The Isaac Winners” (supposedly named after Isaac Newton, hm-hmm…) which is Asimov’s list of the top 72 scientists throughout history. They are sorted alphabetically with entries including names, dates, and major accomplishments. Apparently in some editions her further narrows the list down to the top ten, but not in the one I have.

All in all, another enjoyable collection of science essays. We’re in the early ’60s (the book was published in 1964), so the Space Race is heating up. For more details, see here, and for an alternative review see here.

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