The Pendulum - a case study in physics

Philip Bayer

Registered User
May 23, 2006
I picked up a copy of this book, it fairly quickly goes over my head, it is a in depth analysis of the pendulum and has chapters and appendices on the applications to timekeeping, etc. Has discussions on master/slave clocks as well as historical examples and explanations.

From the discussions of the massive Longnow torsion clock.

Official description:
The Pendulum: A Case Study in Physics is a unique book in several ways. Firstly, it is a comprensive quantitative study of one physical system, the pendulum, from the viewpoint of elementary and more advanced classical physics, modern chaotic dynamics, and quantum mechanics. In addition, coupled pendulums and pendulum analogs of superconducting devices are also discussed. Secondly, this book treats the physics of the pendulum within a historical and cultural context, showing for example that the pendulum has been intimately connected with studies of the earth's density, the earth's motion and timekeeping. While primarily a physics book, the work provides significant added interest through the use of relevant cultural and historical vignettes. This approach offers an alternative to the usual modern physics courses. The text is amply illustrated and augmented by exercises at
the end of each chapter.

# Hardcover: 594 pages
# Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (August 4, 2005)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0198567545
# ISBN-13: 978-0198567547
# Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 7.5 x 0.9 inches


Registered User
Apr 27, 2006
Prescott Valley, Arizona
Philip, that book looks pretty interesting. The more I'm learning about horology (and I have lots more to learn) the more I realize that pendulums are really amazing devices...deceptively simple.

I've seen the website for the longnow clock but not for a long time. I wonder how that project is going.


Bill Ward

Registered User
NAWCC Member
Jan 8, 2003
This book might be a revelation if you're interested in the history of science, and are a newcomer to that study. It consists of a selection of previously published material from various books and journals, mainly aimed at physics and science teachers who probably know the physics very well, but who are quite fuzzy about who, exactly, Chrstian Huygens was (if, indeed, they've ever heard of him!) Therefore, one can't expect too much in the way of explanations of the science. In some cases one gets the feeling that the author himself wasn't too clear on the explanation. Many of the articles are by authors whose 1st language is not English, or are obviously translations into English, and the quality of the writing varies quite a bit. (To be fair, though, it must be said that the writing of some of the foreign authors is far better than that of some of the native speakers!) It's apparent that Oxford University Press (if they are, in fact, the actual publishers- the copy I read is from a Europeean firm) did absolutely no editing of this tome whatsoever. All of the grammatical and spelling errors (how can that even happen tody? Don't they have spell checkers?) are reproduced intact; even the original typefonts and weights are reproduced, so that there is very little design unity to the book as a whole. Oxford did, however, impose one design mandate: none of the text is in a font size larger than about 10 point, and much, such as captions to illustrations, is in 8 point. These are type sizes which used to be relegated solely to the " fine print" in legal contracts. Well, I suppose this is what happens when all the professional typesetters have been replaced by those trained in desktop publishing.
One also gets the feeling that some of the articles were written by graduate students angling for the Master's of Education degree,with no real interest in the subject. Many of the B&W photos (there is no color) were captured from the internet; with their low contrast and small size, many are functionally illegible. Despite the large amount of verbiage in this book, it's my opinion that you don't get much for the $100 price. Better to just look up the original sources for the articles which interest you.
For the horologist, the book by Bob Matthys- "Accurate Clock Pendulums"- is a better bet. Also published by Oxford (and thus, in the same price range) it's filled with the author's diagrams, (and better quality B&W photos) so it's much clearer. It's more oriented to horlologists, especially the hands-on type, and contains mostly original research. Although subject to the same type size defect, the author promises to remedy that in future editions.


Registered User
Apr 25, 2008
This book is currently in my "to read" pile. The followup by
Mr. Ward, however, doesn't seem to fit my understanding of
this book -- and a quick skim through reinforces that impression.
Could it be that Mr. Ward is referring to the similarly named
(and even more expensive) "The Pendulum: Scientific, Historical,
Philosophical and Educational Perspectives", published by Springer?

"The Pendulum: A Case Study in Physics" by Baker and Blackburn
does seem to go well beyond what a hands-on horologist would need.
I am coming to the subject of horology from the electrical engineering
perspective, and this book looks so far (again, it's on my to-read pile)
like a fine investigation, going well beyond time-keeping concerns
touching on subjects like chaos, quantum mechanics, and superconductors (!).
The math uses differentials liberally (although you don't seem to
be asked to solve anything yourself, at least a passing
familiarity with differential equations would help).

As the title states, it's more of a physics book than a horology
book. If you follow the more technical (theoretical) side of the
work by Woodward (search this forum), this book appears to be a
good follow-on.
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