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A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford (Great Discoveries) Paperback – December 17, 2008


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Product Details

  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393333698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393333695
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,437,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the latest installment of Norton's Great Discoveries science-history series, historian Reeves re-introduces Ernest Rutherford, one of the founding geniuses of nuclear physics. Although less well known today, Rutherford was as famous in his lifetime as Einstein became, and his work is equally important to atomic and particle physics. He and his students performed the experiments which resulted in the discovery of the nucleus and structure of the atom, and he counted Niels Bohr as one of his students. Born on the remote New Zealand frontier, Ernest's brilliance showed early, and scholarships led him to study with J. J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. He changed his focus from electromagnetism to the more mysterious field of radioactivity and, through a combination of brilliant insight and indefatigable effort, made fundamental discoveries that earned him a Nobel Prize in 1908 and a powerful influence over nuclear physics until his death in 1937. While short, this biography does an outstanding job of capturing the excitement and almost breathless pace of physics research in the 20th century's first four decades; for those who want to read more, Reeves provides ample endnotes for each chapter.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Richard Reeves, in his wonderfully lucid style, renders the genius of Ernest Rutherford, who exposed the inner workings of the atom. A great experimentalist and mentor, Rutherford gave birth to the atomic age in his labs, and Reeves captures the drama, personalities, and science.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Steve R VINE VOICE on December 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There have been many biographies of Ernest Rutherford; what does Richard Reeves 'A Force of Nature' contribute to what has already been done? In a few words: popular accessibility. This is a book of scientific biography for a popular audience, and it works.

Like other entrants in the Norton 'Great Discoveries' series, the point is the explication of a great scientific discovery and the life of the person most responsible for bringing it about. Reeves has already proven himself an accomplished biographer, especially of Presidents Reagan, Nixon, and Kennedy. This is apparently his first biography of a scientist.

Reeves traces Rutherford's trajectory from New Zealand to the Cavendish in Cambridge to McGill (in Montreal) to Manchester and beyond. But the real story is Rutherford's discovery of the structure of the atom. Although the topic may sound boring to those not interested in such things, Reeves effectively relays the excitement and drama of this particular scientific discovery (the ability to do so of which is the real strength of many of the books in the 'Great Discoveries' series). Here's but one example: Reeves describing Rutherford's reaction after his team first split the atom:

"Rutherford's first reaction was to swear Cockcroft, Walton, and Chadwick to secrecy...until the results could be published in 'Nature'. Only God could know what the Americans would come up with if they knew in advance of publication. ... Of course the secret did not really hold...Rutherford [soon] told members [of the Royal Society] what happened...then he swept his arm toward Cockcroft and Walton and boomed out, 'Stand up, boys! Let everyone have a look at you!' " (p.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on March 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are probably only a handful of scientists the average educated person could name, among them Galileo, Newton, Einstein. And, of course, even a typical educated person might have trouble saying something about why these scientists are so important. This is too bad. Not just because of what it says about science education in the world today but because there are so many scientists whose work deserves better recognition. Ernest Rutherford is one of those who deserves better.

Many students comes across Rutherford in middle or high school during the study of the atom. Rutherford's "gold foil experiment" through which he identified the atomic nucleus and developed the "solar system" model of the atom is a standard part of the curriculum. However, this only touches on Rutherford's body of work and says nothing about the type of man, and scientist, he was. In A Force of Nature, Richard Reeves does an excellent job of bringing both to the fore.

Mr. Reeve's describes many of Rutherford's achievements in a very accessible way. Rutherford's work ranged from investigations of radio and radioactivity to basic sonar concepts during the war. His work on the atom included more than just his well-know discovery of the nucleus. He also was the first to split the atom, though he never realized (or admitted he realized) the awesome power potential of this process. His work earned him a Nobel Prize (in chemistry, Rutherford would sneer) as well as a number of other awards and honors, including the prestigious directorship of the Cavendish Laboratories.

But Mr. Reeve is also able to give a real sense of Rutherford as a human being. As a "colonial" (a New Zealander), Rutherford found it difficult to fit in with the Cambridge set when he earned a scholarship to attend.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr Mike from Otago on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I ordered this little biography because it was on sale. It was not a good deal. It lacks depth or insight. Although the author has a technical background, most of Rutherford's experiments are poorly described and their importance virtually ignored. Interactions between Rutherford and his many collaborators and students are trivialized. Because it is short and cheap, it will find it's way into libraries around the world. That's a good thing because Rutherford was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century and certainly New Zealand's most famous son. Hopefully, interested readers will have access to "Rutherford: Scientist Supreme"
by John Campbell, a much more complete and authoritative biography. If not, then check out the following website for better information: [...]. For the technically inclined, get a copy of the recently reprinted "Radioactive Transformations" by Rutherford himself - absolutely fascinating!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a well written book, that makes it hard to put down an stop reading.
The characters in Ernest Rutherfords life work make for very good reading.
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More About the Author

Richard Reeves is the author of presidential bestsellers, including President Nixon and President Kennedy, acclaimed as the best nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine. A syndicated columnist and winner of the American Political Science Association's Carey McWilliams Award, he lives in New York and Los Angeles.