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Heisenberg Probably Slept Here: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Physicists of the 20th Century (Wiley Popular Science) [Hardcover]

Richard P. Brennan
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 23, 1996 0471157090 978-0471157090 1
"Here is a book I wish I had when taking physics my senior year in high school!" -Book Report

A lively illumination of modern physics' marquee players, featuring:
* Albert Einstein
* Max Planck
* Ernest Rutherford
* Niels Bohr
* Werner Heisenberg
* Richard Feynman
* Murray Gell-Mann

"Brennan has a knack for explaining difficult technicalities simply. His essays give a useful summary of twentieth-century science." -Financial Times

"Highly recommended to expert and layperson alike." -Choice

Editorial Reviews Review

Physics turned weird recently--really weird. That doesn't necessarily mean that modern physicists are weird, though, does it? Well, yes and no, says science writer Richard P. Brennan, whose book Heisenberg Probably Slept Here chronicles the lives of seven great scientists of the 20th century--Einstein, Planck, Rutherford, Bohr, Heisenberg, Feynman, and Gell-Mann--as well as their spiritual father, Isaac Newton. Fascinating and funny, each biographical sketch illuminates the man, his surroundings, and his achievements with unusual clarity.

Writing about the enormous driving force engendered in physics by World War II, with scientists on both sides striving to advance their knowledge far enough to win a terrible war, Brennan shows us the delicate contingencies that led to our current level of understanding. What if the Nazis hadn't rejected "Jewish science"? What if the Allies had assassinated Heisenberg? More generally, he tells us stories of men working like maniacs to answer some of the hardest, most basic questions about our universe ever devised, only to find more questions for the next century to ponder. We may hope that a new generation will be inspired by these stories to take weird 20th-century science much further; perhaps some day quantum mechanics will seem more quaint than abstruse. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A century ago, physical scientists believed they understood the universe on a very fundamental level, complete with equations for every phenomenon. Newton's Laws described the mechanical universe, Maxwell's Equations united electricity, magnetism and light. Only a few puzzling phenomena remained to be explained, foremost among them results from the Michelson-Morley experiment that suggested a mismatch between the equations of Newton and Maxwell, and the spectrum produced by hot bodies, which in comparison with theoretical predictions was skewed toward the infrared. No one could predict that the 20th-century would resolve those puzzling results by reformulating Newtonian mechanics, declaring atoms divisible, blurring the distinctions between matter and energy and between particles and waves and abandoning the precise determinability of natural phenomena. Brennan (Levitating Trains and Kamikaze Genes) tells the story of our century's revolution in physics and the lives of seven great scientists (plus Newton) who brought it about in times marked by war and social and political turmoil. Unfortunately, the book is weakened by lapses in physics (especially relativity, where Brennan mixes one of the theory's basic assumptions-the constancy of the speed of light-with its counterintuitive predictions) and a text that can be as superficial as a poor encyclopedia. In spite of this, many readers will find the book useful for its insights into brilliant, complex minds grappling with scientific, technological and political problems.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Wiley Popular Science
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (December 23, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471157090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471157090
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,792,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heisenberg slept?! June 18, 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First of all, the subtitle of this book, "The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Physicists of the 20th Century," is a bit inaccurate. Among the 8 physicists depicted in Brennan's mini-biography is Sir Isaac Newton; obviously not a denizen of the 20th century. Granted, Newton had more influence on the present epoch of physics than anyone else up until the time of Einstein, so his presence in this work is not inappropriate. It's just that he's not a 20th century physicist.
On the other hand, a startling omission is Erwin Scroedinger. It is understood that one's selection of who's in & who's out can never please everyone in these types of books. However, I can't imagine someone assembling a roster of 20th century physicists without including the venerable Schroedinger. Just my opinion.
The content of the personages Brennan does write about is quite remarkable. Brennan does a reputable job of describing the major motifs of different biographical epochs of each physicist, then mixing in some nice anectdotes for good measure. He also does not get carried away & deify the scientists to make them look infallible. Rather, Brennan fairly integrates their faults into his text. As a bonus, there is also a brief synopsis of the history of Pre-Newtonian physics.
The most informative pages are those devoted to Heisenberg. I had always wanted to believe the stories about how he tried to sabatoge the Nazi bomb effort from the inside. Unfortunately, referencing British documents which were de-classified in 1992, Brennan nullifies those arguments as nothing but wishful thinking and ad-hoc propoganda engendered by H himself.
I would highly recommend this book as a prelude for those who wish to study the lives of these great physicists more deeply. As it is a quick read, it is an equally ideal book for physicists who have only a marginal interest in the great lives of their predecessors.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally physicists revealed as human beings! May 5, 1997
By A Customer
My first motivation to read Heisenberg Probably
Slept Here was to get straight, once and for all
some of the physical laws one hears often quoted but
rarely explained. Who hasn't been "taught"
the Theory of Relativity, Planck's Theory, or several
others? How long did you remember them? This book gave me
not only a fresh understanding of some of the laws and theories of
physics, but also the physicists themselves. I realized
there were excited young students behind these numbers, not
just passionless bookworms. Adding a depth of human character to these
theories is vital to really understanding (and remembering) why these men
came up with their ideas in the first place. The added bonus of seeing the illustrations of
Heisenberg, Einstein and others at a young age at the chapter heading also awakened
me to the fact that physics is not just for the "old and
wise" but also for the young and rebellious! The combination of these characteristics made a book about
physics actually become a real page-turner! Who knew?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good bibliographies, not so good explanations April 17, 2006
This book is really helpful for several reasons. If you are looking for a good story and you enjoy science, then this book is perfect. In addition, the stories are not too long, so those to tend to hyper focus will be able to take a break. This book tells of the often humorous lives of scientific legends. It shows the human behind these legends. For example, these physicists did stupid things in college, like take 6 aspirin and three cokes just to prove they could. They also had marital problems and arguments with their friends. After reading this, these physicists seem more like everyday people. (Granted, most fathers don't read bedtime stories from the encyclopedia.) Over all, this is a good book because it is about real people with real lives.

Another good reason for reading this book is for research on these physicists and their theories. There is plenty of information on their lives and their work for research projects, and the book is very understandable. If you are simply looking to gain a simple understanding of their theories, this book is a good source. However, if you are looking to have an in depth debate on the theories or do serious research, I would not recommend it. The author, while explaining the theories, has a tendency to contradict himself a little. He seems to understand the general concept of the theories, however, upon closer observation, he doesn't make much sense. For example, when he says that scientists "cannot detect" particles in motion and then, just two lines later, says that their calculations about them are accurate, something seems to be wrong with his explanation. This is a great book if you want a good story or a simple overview of the theories; however, if you are looking for "accuracy" then you probably need to refer to the physicists' actual papers on their theories.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High school physics on steroids July 21, 2001
By obediah
A lot of the material was similar to what I did in high school physics...but excellent presentation combined with insights into the lives of the phycisists made this a much more interesting text.
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