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Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe Hardcover – June 18, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

[Bethe was] the supreme problem solver of the twentieth century. (Freeman Dyson)

Nuclear Forces is a carefully researched, historically and biographically insightful account of the development of a profession and of one of its leading representatives during a century in which physics and physicists played key roles in scientific, cultural, political, and military developments. (David C. Cassidy, author of A Short History of Physics in the American Century)

Schweber's account of Hans Bethe's life through his Nobel Prize-winning 1938 work on energy generation in stars reveals the origins of a charismatic scientist, grounded in the importance of his parents and his Jewish roots...[Schweber] recreates the social world that shaped the character of the last of the memorable young scientists who established the field of quantum mechanics. (Publishers Weekly 2012-05-07)

A detailed and thoroughly researched study of Bethe's development as a scientist and as a human being...Schweber has trawled [Bethe's] correspondence [with Rudolf Peierls], together with Bethe's voluminous archive, with the finest of gauzes, and the result is a richly detailed picture of his life. Schweber tells it with compassion and admiration, although Nuclear Forces is no hagiography…This is a deeply rewarding book…[It's] an insightful account of how Hans Bethe became, in the constellation of 20th-century physicists, one of its most luminous stars. (Graham Farmelo Times Higher Education 2012-06-14)

Nuclear Forces is a highly readable account of a remarkable period in physics, tracing the future Nobel laureate through his formative years and up to the eve of World War II. (Manjit Kumar Wall Street Journal 2012-07-13)

Nuclear Forces, by the distinguished physicist Silvan Schweber, tells the story of the first three decades of Bethe's life and career, up to the time of his Nobel Prize–winning work on nuclear reactions in stars. But the book offers much more besides, with a history of the development of physics—atomic, solid-state and nuclear—in the first third of the twentieth century, and of the institutions in which Bethe worked. Schweber's analysis of the physics is the book's great strength. (Frank Cose Nature 2012-06-28)

Schweber, a physicist and historian of physics, provides an engaging account of the life of Hans Bethe...The book essentially ends just before the beginning of WW II. It gives the intellectual, cultural, and scientific background needed to understand Bethe's scientific work and his advocacy for control of nuclear weapons after the war. (M. Dickinson Choice 2012-12-01)

Through many interviews and a friendship going back fifty years, Schweber gives us a rare glimpse into the personal and professional life of this great man. The biography achieves the rare goal of being both scholarly and engaging. (Ashutosh Jogalekar Scientific American blog 2013-12-02)

About the Author

Silvan S. Schweber is Associate, Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and Professor of Physics and Richard Koret Professor in the History of Ideas, Emeritus, at Brandeis University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780674065871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674065871
  • ASIN: 0674065875
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A. Jogalekar VINE VOICE on May 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hans Bethe was one of the greatest and most versatile scientists of the twentieth century. The sheer magnitude of his scientific accomplishments ranging across almost every field of theoretical physics almost defies belief; he was probably the last "universalist", a man who could solve virtually any physics problem that came his way. The sum total of his work in science and government is so vast and diverse that it led the astrophysicist John Bahcall to joke that a conspiracy of several people must have published all those papers under the name Hans Bethe. But Bethe also had the rare distinction of being an even greater human being, a man with rock-solid integrity, strength of mind, character and equanimity. After building the atomic bomb, he worked ceaselessly until the age of 98 for nuclear disarmament and became known as the conscience of the scientific community, a Rock of Gibraltar on whom others could rely for sound and courageous advice even during the most trying of times. In every sense as both a scientist and human being, he was a role model for all of us. In this volume, his biographer Silvan Schweber tells us how Bethe became who he did. Schweber is supremely qualified to write about Bethe, having been his postdoc in the 50s and already having penned an outstanding contrasting study of Bethe and Oppenheimer as well as a superb history of quantum electrodynamics. Through many interviews and a friendship going back fifty years, Schweber gives us a rare glimpse into the personal and professional life of this great man. The biography achieves the rare goal of being both scholarly and engaging. The few technical sections can easily be skipped by non-specialists.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By arpard fazakas on September 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a superlative biography of one of the twentieth century's most important physicists. It is the very model of how to write an authoritative scientific and personal life. The author is a professor of physics and of the history of ideas at Brandeis, and thus possesses the essential expertise to write such a life. He had unparalleled access to primary sources for Bethe's life, and has produced a masterpiece.

The work focuses mainly on the first half of Bethe's long and distinguished career, up until about 1940, which includes the elucidation of the nuclear reactions which power stars for which he won the Nobel Prize. There is a brief concluding chapter which covers Bethe's role in the coming of age of quantum electrodynamics after the war, beginning with the Shelter Island Conference in June 1947, after which Bethe made his celebrated calculation of the Lamb shift which demonstrated the success of the technique of mass renormalization in avoiding the divergences which had plagued the theory.

This biography has everything one could possibly want. It is both remarkably detailed and beautifully organized. The author does an excellent job of partially separating the discussions of his subject's scientific and personal lives so that the two threads can be followed more easily. The scientific portion requires some background in physics and math to be fully understandable, but many of the more technical details are put into footnotes which greatly aids the flow of the narrative. After reading so many biographies of scientists by non-scientists in which the science is treated superficially, it gave me great pleasure to see Bethe's scientific contributions discussed with the depth and authority they deserve. The author is not just a scientist, however.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Calochortus on September 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is a lot of good information here, just two problems as I see it. First, the style of the author tends toward the formal, so there are introductory words before each new section about what is coming. A second style problem infuses the whole book, namely the prose has a wordy, fuzzy quality, particularly in the sections on physics. I've read a lot better accounts of nucleosynthesis and the early history of nuclear physics than this one.

The second problem is the sudden ending of the book before Bethe's participation in building the atomic bomb, and his later misgivings. Shocking to say the least, skipping some of his most famous and interesting activities.

So, it's a mediocre book, but worth reading.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robert Poel on August 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very interesting book with an emphasis on the contextual conditions and people that impacted the early life of Han Bethe. It helps to have some acquaintance with 20th century developments in modern physics. The author has a good grasp of the topics the Bethe investigated and wrote about. Some parts are a bit technical and mathematical, but not to the point that they distract from the overall message. I will look forward to a sequel book that covers the last half of Bethe's career and life.
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Nuclear Forces: The Making of the Physicist Hans Bethe
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