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The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery Hardcover – May 25, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0198506140 ISBN-10: 0198506147 Edition: First

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First edition (May 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198506147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198506140
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,294,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Antonio Carlos S. de Lima on May 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Usually one finds biographies of worldwide famous scientists. There are several books talking about life and times of these celebrities. In this book Pais presents not only those but some of the remarkable scientists not widely known outside the technical community. Being a member of scientific realm and eminent physicist he knew all the 16 experts he is talking about. His personal view of each of these Geniuses of the technical world gives a unique flavor to the book. As lay but loving fan of Physics, I think this book is outstanding. Whether you want to know about the men behind the beautiful field known as Modern Physics you should read, it is an insider view.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Palle E T Jorgensen VINE VOICE on March 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
What makes Pais' book especially compelling and captivating
is that he knew the main players in Science over the period of a lifetime. And then the unique quality of his writing! The
result is a page turner. We are given a glimps into the personal lives of Bohr, of Dirac, of Einstein, of von Neumann, of Pauli,
and of others of the major profiles in science in the twentieth century;-- and Pais offers his own thoughts on their scienceas well. Based on having worked with them...Pais also wrote landmark biographies of Bohr and Einstein. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Someone once wrote that there was more imagination in the mathematician and physicist Archimedes than in all of Homer. The arguments in favor of that statement are very strong. It took a great deal of original, abstract thought to solve the problems that Archimedes resolved. However, that pales before the level of original and abstract thinking that went into the creation of the modern models of the physical universe. Some of the confirmed results are so strange that it is simply impossible to relate them to what we see on the macro scale.
The collection of people who created these models are described in this book. Their exploits make very interesting reading, and although some could be placed in the strange genius category, most were otherwise rather ordinary. Some were devoted to their lives outside physics and others knew only physics. Some had tight partnerships with their spouses while others had tolerant spouses who accepted extra-marital affairs. While including more of the slush would have made the book more interesting to the voyeur and perhaps increased sales, the author raises the personal details only when they are needed.
The true measure of a quality biography of a scientist is that you find their lives interesting even when their science is being discussed. Such is the case here. These giants of the physical realm led interesting lives that the author describes very well in relatively few pages. The physics is also made quite interesting, in that the explanations make you appreciate their accomplishments all the more.
Given the wide variety of personalities described here, one is led to the conclusion that it takes all kinds to make a world view.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Pais has previously written terrific biographies of Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Here he writes about sixteen brilliant 20C scientists who don't quite have the same name recognition as those two, but who made towering contributions - people like Dirac and von Neumann. And as a physicist himself, he knew them personally and worked with some of them. In fluid prose he makes the excitement of their milieu and their science come alive.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Joachim Gruber on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The physicist Abraham Pais met these scientists and developed strong human bonds with them. So, besides concise accounts of their scientific contributions, he tells us some moving, insightful and unforgettable events of their lives.
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