The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery

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9780198506140: The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery

Abraham Pais is the author of the definitive biographies of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Indeed, his biography of Einstein was the winner of the 1983 American Book Award and was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the Best Books of the Year. As a distinguished theoretical physicist who was a friend and colleague of Einstein and Bohr, Pais is able to blend a sophisticated understanding of physics with a first-hand knowledge of the private individual, offering us insights into both. It is this unique double perspective that makes his work so valuable.
Now, in The Genius of Science, Pais offers us insightful portraits of twelve of our century's most distinguished physicists, all of whom he has known personally. We meet, among others, the famously taciturn Paul Dirac; Max Born, who coined the term 'quantum mechanics'; Wolfgang Pauli, famed for his exclusion principle and known as the conscience of twentieth-century physics; Mitchell Feigenbaum, inventor of chaos theory; and John von Neumann, one of the most influential mathematicians of the century. Other scientists profiled include Res Jost, Isidor Rabi, Viktor Weisskopf, and Eugene Wigner. In addition, because their work is so relevant to the others discussed, Pais has included chapters on Einstein and Bohr, in each case giving the essence of the man's character and scientific achievement.
Throughout the volume, Pais illuminates the personalities and achievements of these stellar scientists. The result is virtually a who's who of 20th-century physics--a superb collection of portraits that sheds light on the physicists, their work, and their lasting influence on science.

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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

About the Author:


Abraham Pais is Detlev W. Bronk Professor Emeritus at The Rockefeller University in New York City. He is also the author of 'Subtle is the Lord...' (for which he won the American Book Award), Inward Bound, and Niels Bohr's Times.

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Pais, Abraham
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