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

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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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)

From the Back Cover

IN THIS MOVING and eloquent portrait, John Heilbron describes how the founder of quantum theory rose to the pinnacle of German Science. With great understanding, he shows how Max Planck suffered morally and intellectually as his lifelong habit of service to his country and to physics was confronted by the realities of World War I and the brutalities of the Third Reich. In an afterword written for this edition, he weighs the recurring questions among historians and scientists about the costs to others, and to Planck himself, of the painful choices he faced in attempting to build an "ark" to carry science and scientists through the storms of Naziism.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (September 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674004396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004399
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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