Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A book recommendation

I've been very busy lately, hence a slow down in posting, but in the meantime I wanted to recommend a book.  The Pope of Physics is the recent biography of Enrico Fermi from  Gino Segr√® and Bettina Hoerlin.  The title is from Fermi's nickname as a young physicist in Italy - he and his colleagues (the "Via Panisperna boys", named for the address of the Institute of Physics in Rome) took to giving each other nicknames, and Fermi's was "the Pope" because of his apparent infallibility.  The book is compelling, gives insights into Fermi and his relationships, and includes stories about that wild era of physics that I didn't recall hearing before.   (For example, when trying to build the first critical nuclear pile at Stag Field in Chicago, there was a big contract dispute with Stone and Webster, the firm hired by the National Defense Research Council to do the job.  When it looked like the dispute was really going to slow things down, Fermi suggested that the physicists themselves just build the thing, and the put it together from something like 20000 graphite blocks in about two weeks.)

While it's not necessarily as page-turning as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, it's a very interesting biography that offers insights into this brilliant yet emotionally reserved person.  It's a great addition to the bookshelf.  For reference, other biographies that I suggest are True Genius:  The Life and Science of John Bardeen, and the more technical works No Time to be Brief:  A Scientific Biography of Wolfgang Pauli and Subtle is the Lord:  The Science and Life of Albert Einstein.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Have you read American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer? It must have been about five or six years ago that I read it, and I really rate it as one of the best biographies that I've read. It's still one of my go-to non-fiction recommendations for other people.