From Publishers Weekly
Part mystery, part biography and part nuclear physics primer, Magueijo's book takes readers through an investigation into the melodramatic life, work and bizarre disappearance of a troubled young physicist after he boarded a ship in Palermo on the cusp of WWII. A twisted prodigy raised by domineering parents, Majorana (born 1906) became one of the Via Panisperna boys, a group of raucous young physicists nurtured by fission pioneer Enrico Fermi. Majorana discovered a subatomic particle called the Majorana neutrino, but refused to publish any papers and so never got credit for his discovery. Magueijo's examination of Majorana, aided by interviews with his living relatives, reveals a troubled, confounding man whose disappearance has inspired as many conspiracy theories as the Roswell incident. Whether Majorana committed suicide, joined a monastery, or ran off to Argentina, whether he deserves a Nobel Prize (if he's still alive somewhere) as Magueijo, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College, London (Faster than the Speed of Light
), insists, it's clear his life and approach to his work were both singular and outrageously strange. Photos, illus. (Dec.)
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*Starred Review* No twentieth-century scientist deserved the Nobel Prize more than the Italian physicist Ettore Majorana. So argues Magueijo, who nonetheless admits that the Nobel selection committee faced an insuperable obstacle in considering Majorana: only the living are eligible for the prize, and after March 26, 1938, no one knew whether Majorana was alive or dead. For on that date, one day after he had inexplicably handed a cache of his papers to a baffled student, the gifted theorist boarded a ship in Palermo—and vanished! Unraveling the mysteries left in the wake of that departing ship, Magueijo delves deep into the subatomic theories developed by the enigmatic genius, theories so advanced that they dazzled Majorana’s mentor, Enrico Fermi, and have continued to mesmerize scientists ever since. For the benefit of nonspecialists, Magueijo explains these scientific theories in mercifully simple terms. But what simple terms can illuminate a tortured and unstable personality, vulnerable to bouts of depression and prone to antisocial reclusiveness? The complexities of that personality resist assimilation into any of the standard explanations—suicide, kidnapping, flight, monastic retreat—for Majorana’s disappearance. But astounded readers will thank Magueijo for his daring venture into the science and the psyche of a perplexing figure. --Bryce Christensen