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Dilemmas of an Upright Man: Max Planck and the Fortunes of German Science Paperback – October 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674004396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004399
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #616,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

The Dilemmas of an Upright Man is a reissue of the life of Max Planck...Hollywood would title it Triumph and Tragedy. Planck's quantum theory transformed physics, but his career period was rocked by two world wars. He stayed in Nazi Germany throughout...Although he could have escaped, he wouldn't leave. Some contemporaries found his obduracy hard to understand. (Science News 2000-12-09)

About the Author

J. L. Heilbron, formerly Professor of History and the Vice Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, is a Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, University of Oxford. He was awarded the George Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society in 1993 for his contributions to the field.

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Customer Reviews

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An excellent read, well written, and meticulously researched.
Charles Curtis
J.L. Heilbron does a fine job of explaining Planck’s scientific work, including the discovery of the quantum and Planck’s own understanding of what he had achieved.
Daniel Putman
It is interesting that for Planck the burning of Louvain's library seems to have been the most egregious crime not the soldiers' vicious murder of civilians.
Charles S. Fisher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Cincotta on April 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is a reasonable account of the problems that Max Planck faced in trying to disseminate his worldview. The first chapter, Establishing the World Picture, is the shortest and mostly biographical. The second chapter, Defending the World Picture, is about many of his problems and the resistance that he met. In the middle is a photographic section, not useful but still very nice. The last two chapters deal mostly with his problems during the Third Reich and his work during that time. One warning: this book assumes you have an elementary knowledge of theoretical physics. There are no helpful explanations about thermodynamics, black-body radiation, or quantum physics; the most one can hope for is a cursory review of the phenomena involved. This book does help one understand Max Planck the man, the things which caused him to do what he did and his motivating factors. I think the author intended mostly for this book to be read by college-age or graduate students who were already interested in quantum physics and related topics; it's very dry, with little humor and a lot of highly advanced physics topics. At times, it seems a bit disjointed, and since it's not in chronological order by any stretch of the imagination, the dates sprinkled liberally throughout are the only way to keep it straight in your head.That said, it's a good read if you really want to know about Max Planck: not his theories or his work, but his situation and his life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Charles Curtis on April 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Max Planck, with the discovery of Planck's Constant, laid the foundation for Quantum Physics and didn't even realize the broader implications of his discovery at the time. For years, he and his good friend Einstein resisted accepting quantum theory, for they still thought a better explanation would come along, a unified theory which would embrace Newtonian physics while also explaining odd quantum phenomena turning up in the laboratory. When Planck, at first a staunch Newtonian physicist, realized that quantum mechanics, with its statistical analyses and entanglement and uncertainty wasn't going away, he embraced it, and at once became the target of the classical physicists he had left behind. This book skillfully paints a picture of this unfolding drama, including the horrific tragedy of how, in the end, the Nazi movement and WWII doomed the respectability of Planck's beloved German physics research organizations. Planck was also a philosopher of science, writing and lecturing widely on the ethics and philosophy of physics, and the book also describes how Planck's philosophy unfolded over his lifetime. Explains enough quantum mechanics at the lay level to give you the concepts you need to know to understand the history being laid out, without complicating it with the higher mathematics which a lay person would find difficult to follow. An excellent read, well written, and meticulously researched. Definitely recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. Todt on May 20, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this for my grandson who needed to read a book for a high school project related to science and quantum theory. He enjoyed it for the scientific perspective it presented. I was interested particularly in reading about Planck's life in Germany during the war and how he tried to deal with Hitler's regime -- and live. "Dilemna" is an understatement here. Yes, some of the material was superfluous and could be scanned over. However, I did not agree at all with the reviewer who deemed the book to be dry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Fisher on March 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
Professor Heilbron is adept at placing the history of science in a frame of the general history of the times about which he is writing. Max Planck is a puzzle. He was held at fault for his German nationalism at the start of WWI and blamed for not taking a more active role against the Nazi's. But as Heilbron shows the issue were not so simple. Most historians find the behavior of scientists of the opposing sides in WWI as jingoistic. The internationalism of science broke down in childish ways under the influence of national self-righteousness. After signing a manifesto denying that soldiers from such a cultured place as Germany could have wreaked vengeance of the city of Louvain that the Entente claimed they did, Planck discovered the truth and without confronting other scientists who had signed or the German government began to try to reverse scientists understanding of the events. It is interesting that for Planck the burning of Louvain's library seems to have been the most egregious crime not the soldiers' vicious murder of civilians.

Nazism is more complicated. Planck stayed and made accommodations to the Nazis that he felt would preserve some safety and rights for scientists who suffered from Nazi totalitarianism. Heilbron gives us a nuanced picture of Planck yielding to Nazi pressure while retaining some bits of protective cover, then when completely shoved out of the way, subtly undermining, as best he could, Nazi ideology in his talks around the country on science and religion. Einstein left Germany because there was no other choice for him and held Planck accountable for compromising. But such circumstances are not so clear cut.
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