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Alvarez (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Series) Hardcover – May 12, 1987
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From Publishers Weekly
This is a richly absorbing autobiography by the physicist whose hydrogen bubble-chamber experiments won him the 1968 Nobel Prize in his field. Alvarez launches his "adventures" with a gripping description of his participation in (via an observation plane) the Enola Gay's historic mission over Hiroshima in 1945. Personally as well as scientifically forthright and plainspoken, he holds the reader with the story of his life as a scientist, much of the time at Berkeley, Calif., working with such men as Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence and Enrico Fermi. Central to this account is the picture of life at Los Alamos climaxed by the first A-bomb test in 1945. But subsequent episodes describing work in small-particle physics, capped by a recent switch to "impact" theory that explains the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago, are equal highlights. Photos.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Although both of these books are about Nobel laureates in physics, the lives of the two protagonists offer interesting contrasts. I.I. Rabi, immigrant son of poor, devout Orthodox Jews, is very much a self-made scientist who established a molecular beam research group at Columbia. Thanks to his innovations in the field, the group made high-precision measurements of physical constants. A research administrator during World War II, Rabi found it difficult to return afterwards to front-line research, and he has thus become a senior statesman nationally and internationally. Further, he was a staunch defender of J. Robert Oppenheimer during the latter's 1954 ordeal by hearing. Alvarez, son of a distinguished medical scientist, trained at Chicago under one Nobel laureate and then joined the research team of anotherE.O. Lawrence. Unlike Rabi, he returned to full-time research after the war and made then his greatest contribution by developing the hydrogen bubble chamber. Alvarez was one of the few scientists to testify against Oppenheimer. Even though he is a world-class physicist, his remarks on nuclear weapons and other science-and-society issues appear superficial when set next to Rabi's thoughtful remarks. Both books are strongly recommended for all academic and public libraries. Jack W. Weigel, Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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He is probably best known for discovering the iridium layer left by the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. From this he came up with the impact theory of extinctions. This is an engrossing chapter that includes his geologist son Walter and a young Dr. Richard Muller, who is now known for the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project. I found this theory so interesting that I did further reading on it and found it to be ....WRONG! Well it was true for the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. But when I read Walter's book, "T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) the story seemed much more complicated. Then I read the book, Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters by Donald Prothero, which makes the case that the end of the Cretaceous is the only major extinction caused by an impact. So besides being an excellent, Feynmanesque read, it is also a good lesson in confirmation bias.
He invented radar for instrument flight landing, discovered new elements, invented new accelerators, invented clever optical devices, built the big bubble chambers of particle physics, x-rayed the pyramid at Giza with cosmic rays, used elementary physics to conclusively solve all the unknowns of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas in 1963, looked in Moon rocks for magnetic monopoles, and hypothesized the cause of the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
He was an observer on the plane that dropped the first nuclear bomb on Japan, kept a few Moon rocks on the mantle in his living room where he hosted weekly gatherings of students and physicists, and "did physics" until he died of esophogeal cancer.
This book is a joy for a physicist to read, but anyone who is curious about what physicists really do and how they approach problems both large and small, this book is a treasure.