Science Book a Day Interviews Pedro Ferreira


Special thanks to Pedro Ferreira for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity

Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford and Tutorial Fellow at Oriel College. My field of expertise is theoretical cosmology and astrophysics. I work on the origin of large scale structure in the Universe, on the general theory of relativity and on the nature of dark matter and dark energy. I have just published a new book, The Perfect Theory, a biography of General Relativity. – From Pedro’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Perfect Theory?

I have always loved the theory. I learnt it by myself when I was at university and it has been part of my work (on and off) for almost a quarter of a century. A friend of mine convinced me that I could write a book, weaving together all the different threads, showing that it was special and, in some ways, bizarre.

#2 – Your book is about the many scientists involved with the theory of relativity as much as the theory itself. Who did you find were the most interesting scientists?

This is a difficult question to answer. I became very fascinated by Oppenheimer’s working style or Bryce de Witt’s perseverance. I have a tremendous soft spot for Roger Penrose, I think he is a uniquely brilliant thinker. And I was quite taken by the trio from the Golden Age: Zel’Dovich, Sciama and Wheeler.

#3 – Can you tell us why there was a great expansion of research into relativity after the 1950s, but not before?

There are many reasons that general relativity was stagnant for about 25 years: the rise of the quantum, the rise of antisemitism in Germany and the materialist dogma in the Soviet union, as well as Einstein’s intellectual isolation. But then, in the late 1950s with the growth of radio astronomy, the interest in the US airforce and other corporations, and the interest of a few key characters, the theory took off.

#4 – How did you negotiate the balance of having too much technical information in the book and too little?

It was difficult and, with the help of my wonderful editor Courtney Young, I really had to strip it down. You see, I always wanted the focus to be on the story and the people and I hope it came out that way.

#5 – Are you working on any projects/books that you can tell us about?

I am taking a break from writing! I am very into my research at the moment- the book really helped me appreciate it.

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