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Maverick Genius: The Pioneering Odyssey of Freeman Dyson Hardcover – February 26, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312642350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312642358
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* “Our universe is the most interesting of all possible universes, and our fate as human beings is to make it so.” Few human beings have done more to make this universe interesting than the irrepressible polymath, Freeman Dyson. As Schewe recounts his arrival on the world scene, readers marvel at how a still-young Dyson penetrates subatomic mysteries that baffle more seasoned scientists, evincing a genius partly mathematical, partly imaginative. This theoretical feat marks him as a peer of Einstein, Bohr, Feynman, and Oppenheimer. But Dyson is hardly content to remain just an authority on quantum physics. He insists on applying his versatile mind to the tasks of engineering spacecraft for traversing galactic space, explaining the biological origins of life, framing international policies for a nuclear age, debating climate-change models, and advising moviemakers. Dyson’s trajectory teaches readers a great deal about the behavior of virtual particles in virtual space, technology for scanning distant star systems for signs of life, the biochemistry for transporting genetic information, and even possible ways to harmonize science and religion. But what it most fully illuminates is Dyson’s own exceptional personality—daring, optimistic, independent, even contrarian. A much-needed portrait of a compellingly human scientist. --Bryce Christensen


Advance Praise for Maverick Genius

"A compelling biography of a true renaissance man: Freeman Dyson, an iconoclastic scientist who writes like a poet and has stirred controversy over his views on climate change. By masterfully intertwining the multiple threads of Dyson’s life, this book has become a tapestry that illustrates the complexity of a passionate genius who cares deeply about the fate of humanity and has made major contributions to quantum physics, advanced mathematics, nuclear arms control, national security, and the reconciliation between science and religion."  
--Charles D. Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists and author of Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know

"A fascinating account of an iconoclastic scientific polymath and the lively collection of scientists who were his friends."


Praise for The Grid

"A lively…excellent introduction to the history of the U.S. electricity system for general readers."
--The Wall Street Journal

"Riveting...An outstanding historical narrative." 

--Cleveland Plain-Dealer

"Entertaining and enlightening."
--Publishers Weekly

Customer Reviews

My opinion of this work is, unfortunately, not good.
Edward Moran
A very entertaining book about one of the most brilliant and widely accomplished men in history.
Anthony Alfero
The result led to a great and unique influence on others.
Joseph G. Wick

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rob Slaven on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As is usual, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway. Despite the kind consideration of paying nothing for the book my candid opinions follow below.

To begin, a few key points. The first of which is to point out that this book has very little to do with science, or indeed anything especially technical. It is first and foremost a biography. Anyone wishing to learn about Dyson's achievements at a technical level will find themselves wholly disappointed. Further, the book is organized as a simple chronology of events and while it touches on some of Dyson's interactions with the more technical crowd which surrounded him throughout his lifetime, it doesn't go into them in any satisfactory depth.

After this book it is clear to any reader that Dyson is the ultimate polymath. Excelling at any number of disciplines he's pretty much what I would aim for myself, broad and wise pursuit of all available knowledge. One can find no more auspicious target than that.

Despite the incisive perception of the subject, the author does tend to drag in his presentation. The events of Dyson's life are laid out on display but as a more technical reader I found myself tapping my foot a bit in the metaphorical sense. It took a long time to convey what I wanted to know. Readers with a more personal or biographical bent are sure to be pleased where I was impatient.

In summary, Dyson is clearly a miracle of his age. This biography, however, leaves the most interested parties, the nerds and geeks of the world, a bit disappointed. To those who simply wish to know about the man, all satisfaction is guaranteed. To those who want the back story on the specific technical innovations, prepare for disappointment.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Edward Moran on May 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
My opinion of this work is, unfortunately, not good. To me it reads
like something from People Magazine. The author freely tells us
Dyson's state of mind and gives the impression that he knows Dyson's
motivation. I would have much preferred something more analytic and
scholarly. See, for example, Richard Ellmann's famous biography of
James Joyce, or more to the point, _any_ biography by Silvan Schweber.
Instead, what we have in this book is a collection of gee whiz episodes.

Even though the author is a qualified scientist, there are many, many errors.
To mention just one, Ulam is called a "physicist" rather than what he was,
namely a mathematician.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ash Jogalekar VINE VOICE on February 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Freeman Dyson is a unique treasure; he is not only a brilliant and accomplished physicist who has made important contributions to an astonishingly diverse range of topics in physics and mathematics, but he is also one of the very few scientists around who can craft genuinely eloquent prose. His writing is simple, elegant, and enriched by the words of poets, historians and famous literary lights. Most importantly, Dyson evidences in his writings a quality that is extremely rare among scientists: a deep-seated sensitivity to human problems and to the state of the world that reflects sincere humanism. Indeed, he might be the best living example of someone who can reach across both of C. P. Snow's "two cultures".

Dyson's capacity to stride both the natural and the humanities is emblematic of many other contrasts in his personality. A mathematician who is unabashedly at home in the rarefied realms of pure thought, he has also worked on hard engineering problems related to nuclear reactor and spaceship design. He constantly emphasizes that he is a problem-solver and not a philosopher, yet he manages to write superbly on speculative and philosophical topics like the propagation of life across the cosmos. He is almost ninety and looks like a frail wizard, yet he speaks authoritatively, has a solid memory unmarred by age and confidently strides the grounds of the Institute for Advanced study in Princeton with the energy of someone in their twenties. He is unfailingly cordial, shy and avuncular, yet is not afraid to hold back with his opinions. And in most of his writings he demonstrates an endlessly interesting contrarian streak that has led to his reputation as a maverick; one of his best-selling collections of essays is in fact a paean to the rebel streak in science.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pichierri Fabio on July 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read this book with interest but not with great gusto, perhaps because I expected something more about the scientific contributions of Freeman Dyson (FD) particularly in the field of mathematical physics. FD started his career in UK as a mathematician and, after moving to the US in 1947, he devoted his talents to quantum electrodynamics (QED) while engaging in a fruitful interaction with the great physicist Richard Feynman. The author tells us about this important period but does not delve very much into the personal exchanges and subtleties of this research activity which culminated with the unification of the QED theories of Schwinger, Feynman and Tomonaga (more details can be found in Schweber's book QED and the Men Who Made It, published in 1994).
In the early 1960s, FD started to work on the statistics of energy levels thereby contributing to the extension of the field of random matrix theory initiated in the early 1950s by Eugene Wigner. The collaboration in this field with the Indian theoretical physicist Madan Lal Mehta (see Mehta's book Random Matrices, 3rd edition, 2004) produced the important Dyson-Mehta distribution, which is not mentioned inside book. In order to really appreciate the mathematical and scientific genius of FD, one should consult the book Selected Papers of Freeman Dyson with Commentary (published in 1996).
Anyway, this is the first biography of FD and hence it is worth reading while keeping in mind that the book is written for a very general, non-scientific audience. The technical aspects of his extraordinary work are not explained in detail (for example, there are no schemes or figures explaining many of the original concepts developed by FD such as the Dyson sphere, etc.).
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