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The Scientist as Rebel (New York Review Collections) Hardcover – November 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In an eclectic but deeply satisfying collection, Dyson, a prize-winning physicist and prolific author (Weapons and Hope), presents 33 previously published book reviews, essays and speeches (15 from the New York Review of Books). Dyson expresses his precise thinking in prose of crystal clarity, and readers will be absolutely enthralled by his breadth, his almost uncanny ability to tie diverse topics together and his many provocative statements. In the title essay, Dyson writes, "Science is an alliance of free spirits in all cultures rebelling against" the tyranny of their local cultures. In a 2006 review of Daniel Dennett's book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Dyson, himself a man of faith, takes issue with Dennett's quoting of physicist Stephen Weinberg that "for good people to do bad things—that takes religion." The converse is also true, says Dyson: "for bad people to do good things—that takes religion." Three of the best chapters (reprinted from Weapons and Hope) deal with the politics of the cold war. And his writings on Einstein, Teller, Newton, Oppenheimer, Norbert Wiener and Feynman will amuse while presenting deep insights into the nature of science and humanity. Virtually every chapter deserves to be savored. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

Distinguished physicist Dyson is a clear and compelling writer, gifts highlighted in this collection of 33 previously published and frequently updated essays and reviews. Organized into sections on contemporary issues in science, war and peace, history of science and scientists, and personal and philosophical ruminations, these works demonstrate Dyson's far-ranging interests and skill in writing for educated and curious generalists, qualities that ensure this volume's wide appeal. Some readers may feel a thrill reading Dyson's comments on military strategy; others may prefer Dyson's thoughts on such physics-related people and issues as Isaac Newton, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Norbert Wiener, and string theory. But whatever a reader's passion, Dyson's emphasis on rebels within science rather than upholders of the status quo makes the book especially satisfying. Steve Weinberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Collections
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review Books; First Edition edition (November 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172162
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on February 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Physicist Freeman Dyson has been prominent in his field since the forties, when he participated in the development of nuclear weapons. In "The Scientist As Rebel," he presents a collection of his book reviews, essays, and lectures - mostly from the last decade. The typical review covers more than one book by authors with differing views - the books serving as templates for Dyson to develop his own themes. The books themselves are of varying ages, one being from the 1600's. Many of the scientists and their biographers - probably over 150 among them both - will be readily recognized by readers of science history.

Dyson takes his time with these reviews. Sometimes it is not quickly evident where he is going, but the payoff usually justifies the suspense. In the process, we get to hear his take on innumerable hot issues in science and its interface with humanity:

*The urgent need to find a unifying theory of physics - formulas that would be compatible with both quantum mechanics and Einstein's gravitational formulas of space-time - is over-rated. We will probably never make these formulas mathematically compatible.

*Technological progress does more harm than good unless accompanied by ethical progress. The free market by itself will not produce technologies access-friendly to the poor.

*We don't have to worry about the nanotech bee-like swarms presented by Crichton in "Prey." The laws of physics don't allow entities that small to fly faster than 1/10 inch/second.

*The willingness of the British abolitionists to buy out the slave owners made the crucial difference between the peaceful liberation of the West Indian slaves in 1833 and the bloody liberation of the American slaves thirty years later.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Palle E T Jorgensen VINE VOICE on November 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a delightful collection of short stories; well, it is really a collection of book reviews written by the author in recent years for *New York Review*. But each of them was edited and brought up to 2006. Some of the revisions were in response to reader correspondence.

In any case, I was sorry when I reached the end, and I am hoping for more.

The author Freeman Dyson (author of "Disturbing the Universe") has a unique talent for bringing the characters and the protagonists to life, and many of the stories are inspired by the author's own experiences, and some are biographies of scientists (Feynman, Oppenheimer, Teller, and more) and others of people Dyson met in his career or in his life. Dyson ponders and answers the question: "Why do some scientists like Einstein gain cult status, while others like Poincare are forgotten by the public?"

This lovely little book is a gem, and it is proof that it is possible for the same person to be a brilliant scientist and a great story teller at the same time; observing the world we share, and helping us reflect on big questions of war and peace, on the environment, on space flights, and on whether there might be intelligent life out there.

The book is divided into five chapters, the last one consisting of Biographical Notes. Each of the four real chapters consists of a handful of stories (sections, essays or reviews) which can stand alone. A sample of titles of the sections: Can Science be Ethical? (the gap between rich and poor, and more.) Bombs and Potatoes. (reflections, and recollections from WWII work on the nuclear bomb.) Russians. (starting with History and ending with recollections of persons Dyson met in Russia.) The Force of Reason.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By DaLaoHu on November 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
Freeman Dyson is a scientist. He is also a very competent and thoughtful essayist. I first came across his writings in The New York Review of Books, which are what led me to read this book. I see that several long reviews have already been posted on the subject, so I will not rehash the contents of this book. Let me just say that I think this book would have been better titled The Scientist as Human. Because that is basically what this book is, an explication of the human side of many of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century. We non-scientists tend to think of scientists as little robot-like creatures playing with various versions of fire in their private black boxes, but what this book brings out is that they are actually people like you and me with all of the same quirks and foibles. I like that. Thank you Freeman Dyson for sharing that with us. Let me also point out that you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy this book. It is written, and well-written at that, for the general public. You may not agree with all of his conclusions -- I myself think he puts far too much faith in the power of biological engineering to solve our future problems -- but he is always interesting. The only reason I gave this a four-star instead of a five-star rating is because if you are like me you read the four-stars first.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Scientific advance always comes from questioning, and often from overturning generally accepted facts and kinds of reasoning. Even outside the discussions of science and related topics, people in technical fields have often rebelled in other ways, too. Examples include run-ins with religious authority like Galileo's, political activism like that of Évariste Galois or Benjamin Franklin, or modern terrorist activities that seem to draw startling numbers of engineers.

Instead, this relatively placid book discusses the proper role of the military in a free society, and the proper role of scientists with respect to that military. He reviews books, and describes the personal conflicts of great modern scientists. Some of them, if I may borrow from another author, did "great things. Terrible things, yes, but great." Rebellion against tradition works in other ways, too, as in Gandhi's historic victories through peaceful means

As a collection of essays, Freeman Dyson delivers a wide-ranging and thoughtful collection of works. Most of these have appeared previously, sometimes quite a few years ago, so Dyson adds contemporary comments to describe how the world changed in the years between. As a directed study in how rebellion contributes to scientific creativity, or how scientists contribute to make kinds of rebellion, I found this disappointing. Still, I really enjoyed each of the works that appears here. Taken for what it is, not for what the title promises, this has plenty to offer.

-- wiredweird
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