Science writer George Johnson's The 10 Most Beautiful Experiments includes Newton's illuminating splitting of light into colors; Galileo's experiment with gravity; Lavoisier's work with oxygen; Faraday's proof that magnetism, electricity and light are inextricably intertwined; and more. Johnson admits to selecting his top 10 arbitrarily, but they all share the common criterion of being comparatively simple in concept - the sort of experiment that could be set up in a laboratory (or even, in some cases, a home). They also share the distinction of opening fundamental areas of science, from the nature of energy to the inner workings of the mind.
Johnson's book is as elegant as the experiments he features, which are drawn from physics, chemistry, biology and even psychiatry. Johnson acknowledges that the reader might have other experiments to add to the list, and why not? Science is about the fascination of exploring the universe and whatever fascinates the mind, is, like The 10 Most Beautiful Experiments, worth the exploring. The writing here is lively, mixing bits of biography with the experiments themselves, offering the human element that explains the scientists' motivation as well as the science. Johnson shares personal anecdotes as well as theory in an engaging, compelling style. The result is a little gem of a book, enjoyable to read both as history and science.