Physics might seem part of an alien culture to most people, but it has touched all our lives, and its byproducts, in the form of nuclear fission, are going to remain with us for many generations to come. It could be argued that the 20th century was the century of theoretical physics. The Genius of Science
is, as its subtitle claims, a portrait gallery of 16 of the most interesting and eminent of the international physicists who helped change our view of the world--from Niels Bohr to Eugene Wigner. But the list of characters is much, much larger and interweaves most of the international network of physicists and other prominent scientists of the last century. Author Abraham Pais, an eminent American theoretical physicist and professor at Rockefeller University, has written acclaimed biographies of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, two of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. Pais was acquainted with many of the people he writes about, and he often appears in the book as a shadowy figure in the background. Anyone can dip into The Genius of Science
anywhere in its pages and be immediately grabbed by both the extraordinary and the ordinary aspects of the lives of these scientists. The author provides plenty of anecdotes, from those about Bohr's pipe-smoking to Robert Oppenheimer's reaction to the first successful atomic bomb test: "... some lines of the Bhagavad Gita
went through his mind: I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
Pais wants to bring life back to these people, but not in any salacious way; he admits to having "never been interested in entering others' bedrooms." If you want psycho-biography or scandal, you will not find it here. But the general reader will get a sense of the trials, tribulations, and excitement of the scientific life. There are plenty of references for those who want to follow up the details, and there's a useful index of characters mentioned in the text. --Douglas Palmer, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
Physicist Pais won an American Book Award for his 1983 Einstein bio, Subtle Is the Lord; here he offers short, memorable, avowedly subjective sketches of the lives, accomplishments and personalities of 16 men whose work drove modern physics. "I have known all of them personally," Pais remarks; sometimes, delightfully, he brings his reminiscences to the fore. The very likable Niels BohrAwho helped discover the structure of the atomAkept up friendly professional quarrels with Einstein and struggled, often fruitlessly, to articulate his subtle thought to lay audiences. (Pais has also penned a full-length Bohr bio; Bohr, Copenhagen and Denmark's Bohr Institute provide a sort of center from which Pais draws anecdotes and recollections about several later figures, among them Res Jost and Oskar Klein.) Mitchell Feigenbaum, who helped unfold the mathematics of chaos, attributed his most important discoveries partly to his primitive programmable calculator. The calm and magisterial George Uhlenbeck wanted to be a historianAuntil he discovered that electrons have spin. Einstein himself turns up for a brief essay, as do game theorist John von Neumann, Wolfgang Pauli of exclusion principle fame and Eugene Wigner, who applied mathematical group theory to quantum mechanics. Pais assumes his readers know at least some of the relevant physicsAthe volume shouldn't attract, and doesn't seek, an audience of novices. Instead, Pais assembles admiring, enjoyable tales about physicists, just as many previous writers have compiled tales about painters and composers, for aficionados, professionals and students of the discipline. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.