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The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III: Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199552276
ISBN-10: 0199552274
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"In this biography, Peter Byrne bravely explores both the life and the science of Hugh Everett, the brilliant creator of the 'many worlds' concept who burned himself out at an early age. As Byrne makes clear, Everett's startling achievements in physics stood against his startling deficiencies as a husband and father."--Kenneth W. Ford, retired director, American Institute of Physics
"This book has the potential to become the definitive biography of one of the finest minds of the twentieth century." --David Deutsch FRS, Oxford University
"In this extraordinarily personal biography, Peter Byrne masterfully conveys the life, struggles, achievements, and failures of this fascinating man, whose insights in physics created a new understanding of quantum mechanics, whose secret work helped usher us through the Cold War, and whose inner battles led to his own destruction." --A. Garrett Lisi, physicist, author of An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything"
"We are grateful to Peter Byrne for this remarkable and remarkably sad story of the life and science of Hugh Everett III. Gifted, but late-to-be-recognized, Everett, while still in his twenties, proposed a new, now somewhat fashionable, interpretation of the quantum theory--the often rediscovered and often misinterpreted, so called, many worlds theory. Byrne gives a lucid and accessible account of many aspects of what has been an extraordinarily puzzling question that has bedeviled the quantum theory since its origin. And he does this with a warts and all reconstruction of Everett's life. An impressive achievement."--Leon N. Cooper, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1972
"Peter Byrne has the skills of a seasoned journalist: an eye for a story, a knack for turning up improbable interviews and previously undiscovered manuscripts, and a thoroughly engaging style. His target here is inherently interesting, and the resulting story is a remarkable achievement." --Jeff Barrett, Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine
"This is an exciting book about a man who was ahead of his time by decades, although he did no more than logically apply a well-established theory against all prejudice. Peter Byrne has done an excellent job in unearthing documents, most of them unknown, about the history of Everett's ideas, their reception by the leading physicists from 1957 until today, and the consequences this had for Everett's life." --H. Dieter Zeh, University of Heidelberg

About the Author


Peter Byrne is an investigative reporter and science writer based in northern California. He has written for Scientific American, Mother Jones, Salon.com, SF Weekly, North Bay Bohemian, and many other magazines and newsweeklies. He has received national recognition for his investigative reporting, including from Investigative Editors & Reporters and Project Censored. He a member of the Foundational Questions Institute, which has supported this book with a large grant. He has made presentations on Everett at University of Oxford, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and University of California, Irvine. He consulted on (and appeared in) the BBC4 production about Everett, Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives. He is curating the Everett papers.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199552274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199552276
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,263,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John K. Clark on August 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've just finished this book and its one of the most enjoyable things I've read in a long time. Being a staple of science fiction and the only interpretation of quantum mechanics to enter the popular imagination it's a little surprising that "The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett" by Peter Byrne is the first biography of the originator of that amazing idea. Everett certainly had an interesting life, he was a libertarian and a libertine, became a cold warrior who with his top secret clearance was comfortable with the idea of megadeath, became wealthy by started one of the first successful software companies until alcoholism drove him and his company into the ground. Everett died of heart failure in 1982 at the age of 51, he was legally drunk at the time. He requested that his body be cremated and his ashes thrown into the garbage. And so he was.

Byrne had an advantage other potential biographers did not, the cooperation of his son Mark, a successful rock musician and composer whose music has been featured in such big budget movies as American Beauty, Hellboy, Yes Man, all three of the Shrek movies and many others. Mark gave Byrne full access to his garage which was full of his father's papers that nobody had looked at in decades.

Everett was an atheist all his life, after his death Paul Davies, who got 1,000,000 pounds for winning the Templeton religion prize, said that if true Many Worlds destroyed the anthropic argument for the existence of God. Everett would have been delighted. Nevertheless Everett ended up going to Catholic University of America near Washington DC. Although Byrne doesn't tell us exactly what was in it, Everett as a freshman devised a logical proof against the existence of God.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fantastic amount of research has gone into this interesting book. Peter Byrne is a science journalist and his depth of understanding is as impressive as his to-the-point writing style. Physics fans will know Everett as the one who came up with the 'many worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics, that is, the idea that each time a measurement is made the universe splits into an infinity of copies depending on what the result is. Up till now I had always thought the idea repulsive for occam's razor reasons, but this book, through exhaustive discussion of the idea, almost has me convinced it is a valid explanation. Certainly to this day there is no conclusive argument against Everett's thesis in theoretical physics and a surprising number of physicists believe in it.

What makes this biography absolutely impossible to put down is the life of the man. Briefly he completed his thesis on many worlds in Princeton as a young man and was promptly hired by US defence to come up with algorithms and mathematical calculations relating to nuclear war, kind of like Oppenheimer, but with a far more dramatic result. The author repeats the irony or appropriateness, of the many worlds theorist coming up with different scenarios of complete nuclear war between the US and Russia, some of which destroy both countries, some of which lead to a 'win' for the US, etc. Many simulations involved destroying China too, to punish it or teach it a lesson. In addition he was an alcoholic and a terrible father and husband with multiple affairs, and died at an early age from a heart attack. Both children suffered but his son Mark Everett went on to become a famous indie songwriter with the Eels. He is the one who allowed the writer access to all the papers from his father.
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I am not a physicist. What I appreciate about this book is that it is understandable for the non-physicist. It makes sense of what appears to be a very complex idea put forward by a man 50 years ago when cosmology was in a very different place than it is today. Everett had an insight that shook the foundations of orthodoxy. As have other great minds and forerunners of new thought, he suffered for his science.

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in cosmology and quantum mechanics. The book is well written and well edited. I enjoyed reading it and I am assuming the many copies of me inhabiting all those multiverses had a good time too.
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Everett’s son Mark wrote in a Foreword to this 2010 book, “Growing up in my family once was odd enough. I had no desire to do it again. As a means of survival I decided I had to always be moving forward. I ran to California and made a new life for myself. After the deaths of my father, mother, and sister, I was left with the grizzly task of going back to the family house in Virginia and cleaning it out… I unceremoniously stacked box after box of my family’s past onto shelves … I knew the day was coming when the boxes would have to be opened… I still don’t relish going back to that world… I can smell death in the aid. I was sure those boxes held the same smell. Luckily Peter Byrne came along to smell those boxes for me. The boxes have now become this book… Peter managed to dig through the smell and bring the people buried in the boxes back to life… It’s been a great pleasure to have this new part-time job of helping my father get the attention he didn’t get while he was alive. I’ve learned to forgive him for his shortcomings as a father by identifying with him in some ways.”

Author Peter Byrne wrote in the Introduction, “This is a book about anti-heroes. It’s about a tragically dysfunctional American family as reconstructed from intimate records and memories of the living. It’s about the technocratic mindset that waged the Cold War, bringing humanity to the brink of destruction under the banner of rationality… These three strands---quantum mechanics, computerized war gaming, and the fate of a small, nuclear family shaped during the Cold War---gradually weave together as we tell the story of a powerfully intelligent, but morally conflicted man who significantly affected our world.”
(Pg.
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