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Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics Paperback – February 17, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319910
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

What are little physicists made of? Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam, in John Wheeler's science autobiography. To the rest of us, getting excited over the properties of atomic nuclei and the forces that hold invisible particles together may seem eccentric, to say the least. But physicists hold the secrets of the universe in their heads, and they have a special place in human history. Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Oppenheimer--their names are inextricably linked with the mysteries of the atom. Wheeler, among the most creative physicists of our time, tackled questions related to the nature of space, time, and gravity alongside his more well known colleagues. Renowned as a teacher, Wheeler worked with student Richard Feynman to imagine a subatomic world where particles move backward in time. With fellow physicist and former student Ken Ford, Wheeler has crafted an engaging look at the eye of the 20th-century physics hurricane. There's a lot of physics in this book, which may put off those shy of its terminology and abstractions, but the stories and photographs of the men and women who know the atom will help readers see the humanity in science, and the warmth and passion of its practitioners. This is a remarkable history of one man's part in revealing the underlying nature of everything. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The lives of the key figures in 20th-century physics have been copiously documented in dozens of biographical and historical works. Somewhat unusually, Wheeler, perhaps best known for having coined the term black hole, chose to write his own story. The results are personal (but not especially insightful) and informative (but not especially revealing). He begins with his account of the discovery of fission and the Manhattan Project, which has been retold so many times that his anecdotes supply nothing new. Likewise, his remembrances of subsequent research into electromagnetic and gravitational fields, conducted against the backdrop of the Cold War, are honest and poignant but quite familiar to readers of this genre. Wheeler is best at explaining the significance of his own work in lay terms, and he gives an enticing view of his latest vision of physics, in which "everything is information." A rigorous scientific biography would do more justice to his career. Recommended, with reservations, for academic and larger public libraries.?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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It is well written as well as beautifully organized.
A Customer
Anyone even remotly interested in science would benifit greatly from reading this book.
Matthew Nobes (
Whether apocryphal or not I don’t know, but I like it.
Masayoshi Ishida

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy M. Harris on February 8, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having noticed over the years that Prof. John Archibald Wheeler's name turns up in an amazing variety of physics-related articles and anecdotes, I was particularly primed to read his autobiography. The book doesn't follow a simple from-birth chronology, but rather begins with Wheeler teaching at Princeton and volunteering to meet the ship carrying his mentor, Niels Bohr, at a New York City dock in January of 1939. From that pivotal moment at the brink of World War II, Wheeler fills out his story by reaching back to childhood and forward to his long career in teaching, research, and national service. We learn of his brother Joe, whose body lay in a foxhole on an Italian hillside until it was reduced to bones. Wheeler reminds us that if the Manhattan Project had geared up one year earlier, the lives of his brother and many others might have been spared.
Wheeler's remarkable character pervades the book and helps make it unique and interesting. In a profession legendary for strong intellects and egos, he has achieved and maintained a pomposity coefficient of zero. His judgments of other people are unfailingly generous, but also astute enough to be interesting and revealing. He provides candid firsthand impressions of legendary figures such as Bohr, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller, Ulam, Heisenberg, Fermi, Szilard and Feynman . We also learn about many less well-known colleagues, friends and students whom he finds memorable for various reasons. In contrast to the eminent-scientist stereotype, Wheeler has always enjoyed teaching undergraduates and is genuinely interested in the problems and aspirations of the young people entrusted to his care.
Like the brilliant George Gamow, Wheeler has a talent for explaining difficult concepts and illustrating them with whimsically inventive diagrams.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By James Davison on September 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
Physicists often compare themselves to blind men feeling an elephant -- each guessing at the nature of the beast by describing the small part that they can touch. If true, then no man has come closer to feeling the Whole Elephant than John Archibald Wheeler. Wheeler's energetic career touched virtually every significant modern physicist -- Bohr, Fermi, Einstein, Teller, Oppenheimer, Feynman and many others -- a dazzling list that includes the most luminous minds of the last century. Wheeler may have missed winning a Nobel prize only because he was willing to sacrifice the best slice of his career to secretly help develop the fission and later fusion bombs for America. After leaving what he calls the "everything is particles" phase of his career, Wheeler entered "everything is fields" -- inventing the term "black hole" and describing the properties of these amazing objects long before anybody else ever took them seriously. Some ideas such as "geons" -- self sustained loops of light held together by their own gravitational attraction -- may still await discovery. Finally, in "everything is information" he explores ways in which information theory may be the most underlying unifying principle of reality. Part biography, part history and part speculation, this rambling story portrays a uniquely American explorer on a voyage through the amazing landscape of 20th century physics. The book is packed with photographs and profiles of the world's smartest men, fascinating anecdotes and meticulous historical details -- and shows that even at the age of 87, John Wheeler can still get excited talking about the unsolved mysteries that pervade our universe.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I had the great fortune to meet Dr. Wheeler this year, and was thus inspired to read his autobiography. I'm very glad I did so. It is well written as well as beautifully organized. For someone who can understand the most esoteric concepts of physics, it is a blessing that he can share then with us in a manner which may make them somewhat comprehendable even though most readers will not have had a physics backround. For the physicist this is a must read since Dr. Wheeler is one of the pioneers in relativity and quantum (modern) physics--not to mention he is one of the few remaining who were there with Einstein, Bohr and others. Further, for the beginning scientist, this book introduces one to the ideas in physics that will occupy the next century. He ends his book with some of the questions that physicists will face, such as why the quantum? For the non-scientists, Dr. Wheeler is a gentleman whose life is very intriguing. Some parts of the book may be a little invovled, but as one lady told me, "you can just skim those." The life of a man who lived through WWII is fascinating enough to enjoy reading. Also, his times with such famous physicsist's as Einstein, are a pleasure to read.
Some of the more interesting features of his book include his discussions on gravity, on black holes (he coined the name), how nuclear reactors work, and of the famous scientists (including Einstein, Bohr, Feynmann, etc.).
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By D. Roberts VINE VOICE on February 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
During his tenure at Princeton university, John Archibald Wheeler has served as the mentor to such outstanding physicists as Richard P. Feynman, Kip Thorne and Hugh Everett. He was also great friends with such individuals as Albert Einstein & Niels Bohr. In short, his contributions to physics have been indispensable.
This present work of his traces his life, a life that is (as the cover says) one of science. However, one of the nice facets of this book is that it goes beyond just the laboratory & reveals the personal life of this great man. We learn of the moving death of his brother in WWII, his worries and concerns over nuclear war (as well as the grapples with his conscience that he endured over the invention of the hydrogen bomb) and many other aspects of his life. He also tells stories of some of his most memorable students; not all of these were necessarily his most gifted pupils. Above all, Wheeler reveals a genuine human passion that has characterized his approach to science over the greater part of this century. One of the best biographies of a scientist I have ever read.
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