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eBook The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom ePub

eBook The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom ePub

by Graham Farmelo

  • ISBN: 0465022103
  • Category: Professionals and Academics
  • Subcategory: Biography
  • Author: Graham Farmelo
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Pages: 560
  • ePub book: 1462 kb
  • Fb2 book: 1715 kb
  • Other: mobi lit lrf docx
  • Rating: 4.8
  • Votes: 455

Description

The Strangest Man book.

The Strangest Man book. He was one of the leading pioneers of the greatest revolution in twentieth-century science: quantum mechanics. The youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, he was also pathologically reticent, strangely literal-minded and legendarily unable to communicate or empathize.

Dirac is the strangest man, Bohr said, who ever visited my institute. But purity and strangeness were not the whole story. Kragh’s book offers a collage of a brilliant and peculiar man seen from the outside; Farmelo’s is a tapestry, and he provides glimpses of the inside.

The title of Farmelo’s book comes from Niels Bohr, who told a colleague that Paul Dirac was the strangest man to ever visit Bohr’s institute in Cophenhagen.

He lives in London, England. The title of Farmelo’s book comes from Niels Bohr, who told a colleague that Paul Dirac was the strangest man to ever visit Bohr’s institute in Cophenhagen.

by Dirac & Paul Adrien Maurice & Farmelo & Graham. of the Mystic Shrine," on September. 111. Loder and seven associates, to form a Temple in Rochest. Fred Alan Wolf's 'The Yoga of Time Travel (How the Mind Can Defeat Time)'. 36 MB·62,021 Downloads·New!.

The principle of mathematical beauty Appendices Bibliography of P. A. M. Dirac Notes and references General bibliography Index of names Index of subjects. Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein.

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Paul Dirac was among the greatest scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of Einstein's most admired colleagues, he helped discover quantum mechanics, and his prediction of antimatter was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of physics. In 1933 he became the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Dirac's personality, like his achievements, is legendary. The Strangest Man uses previously undiscovered archives to reveal the many facets of Dirac's brilliantly original mind.

Comments

Jeb Jeb
I rate this a top shelf biography. As a PhD in theoretical physics the author was appropriately trained to tackle the scientific side of this as well as his long infatuation with the subject (Dirac) which gave him plenty of impetus to get at the human side of the subject. He writes well, the story unfolding easily and warmly, taking us through the usual biographical flow of a life after beginning somewhat abruptly with a valuable late insight into Dirac's own thoughts on his father (in particular) and his life. This insight, gained from a former neighbour and colleague of Dirac's in Florida, shows us both an important human impact made on this man's life, as well as the author's research quality, seeking out and perhaps even going to the USA to interview this person.

I knew about Dirac since student days, but since physics wasn't my subject and the quantum stuff way beyond me, I never bothered with finding out about him beyond the basics. But I am truly glad I bought and read this book. The subject emerges as a giant for me now, even though I little understand the intricacies of what he did. It is however, easy to appreciate the magnitude of what he achieved, how he was rated by mentors, colleagues and juniors. When Einstein recommends you as his first choice to appointment at the Institute for Advanced Studies, you know you're of some value as a scientist. When people of the stature of Oppenheimer and Feynman are in awe of you, you know you must be worthy of something. Such was it for Dirac.

Unlike at least one of the reviewers here, I am disappointed that we don't get more technical explanations of some of the science. I realise that stuff is over the heads of most bio readers (including me), but I think it might be appropriate for scientific biographers to think about including such material in an appendix (especially when they are trained and capable as Farmelo is). A kind of Technical Details for Dummies appendix, as it were, including the equations, but explained as simply as possible - if that is possible, and I'm sure it is. I give as an example that succeeds admirably Pais' bio of Einstein, where the technical details are provided by the physicist-biographer in a manner that does not intrude for the non-mathematical reader but is highly useful for those who can benefit from it.

I see one reviewer found a couple of historical inaccuracies. These are always likely to intrude in a work of this size and breadth. They can be corrected in a second edition and the reviewer thanked for drawing attention to them.

In all I am very pleased with this work. I bought it about 8 months ago and have already read it completely twice as well as dipping into various index entries 10 or 15 times.

Five stars.
Arlelond Arlelond
The title of Farmelo’s book comes from Niels Bohr, who told a colleague that Paul Dirac was “the strangest man” to ever visit Bohr’s institute in Cophenhagen. Bohr’s comments related not only to Dirac’s unusually spare social interaction style but also to his iconoclastic style of thinking. In a field that is historically dense with collaborations and exchanges of findings and methods, Dirac was an extreme outlier, as someone who rarely talked at all, infamous for one word responses even in conversations with colleagues about scientific matters.

Farmelo blends the story of Dirac’s odd personality and quirky behavior with the story of Dirac the physicist. After all, his “strangeness” is a dominant attribute of both his personal life and his scientific activity.

He starts with Dirac’s relationship to his father, Charles Dirac. Charles Dirac was a strict, controlling father. He enforced a hard work ethic, with little social life for Paul, his brother Felix, and his sister, Betty. Felix committed suicide relatively early in his adult life, apparently over frustration with his lack of achievement. Betty clung to the family, looking after her father and mother, Flo, until marrying in her 30s.

Paul never lost his resentment over his father’s tight controlling hand. Later in life, he would voice that resentment, sometimes surprising friends and even bare acquaintances, breaking his regular silence with a diatribe against his father’s treatment of him. As he grew older, and especially in his marriage to the Hungarian sister of Eugene Wigner, Manci, he seems to have freed himself to some degree, finding that he could enjoy hobbies like mountain-climbing and swimming. But he maintained an odd, withdrawn character throughout his life, customarily sitting in silence in both scientific discussions and in social situations.

Paul’s mother, Flo, was also seemingly hemmed in by Charles’ strong hand. Their marriage deteriorated but ended only with Charles’ death, and long before that she came to look to Paul as her primary emotional support. The combination of a controlling father and a clinging mother put Paul in a kind of vice, no doubt partially responsible for his odd personality.

Then there is Dirac the scientist. He was a mathematical physicist, a theorist of a pure kind. And it is that mathematical purity that may be his most profound legacy as a scientist. It is certainly a central theme of Farmelo’s account of his life.

Dirac was propelled by mathematics. With a background also in engineering, he certainly was attentive to the need to tie mathematical speculation back to verifiable observations, but it was the math that moved his thoughts.

Farmelo quotes Dirac — “The most powerful method of advance that can be suggested at present is to employ all the resources of pure mathematics to attempts to perfect and generalise the mathematical formalism that forms the existing basis of theoretical physics, and after each such success in this direction, to try to interpret the new mathematical features in terms of physical entities . . . “

It would be hard to say that Dirac was the first physicist to take his lead from pure, abstract mathematics — after all, the debate over the role of abstract theory vs. experiment and observation goes back to Descartes and Bacon. But it would be just as hard to find a stronger proponent for going wherever the math leads, and then picking up the thread of reality in its wake.

In fact, maybe Dirac’s best known original contribution — anti-matter — was a mathematical construction. It took significant time before his speculations could be confirmed in observations of cosmic rays at Caltech and then by his colleagues at the Cavendish Labs at Cambridge.

Farmelo stresses Dirac’s insistence that good theory in physics meet a criterion of “mathematical beauty”. “Beauty’ here is somewhat ironically undefined, for someone as meticulous as Dirac in determining the meaning of any theoretical terms. But it relates essentially to simplicity and universality, traceable back to Dirac’s early reading of John Stuart Mill’s A System of Logic — something that seemed to have strongly influenced him throughout his career.

Another quote serves to state how important the role of beauty in theory was for Dirac — “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” Despite his atheism, it’s hard not to attribute a kind of faith to Dirac, that the universe itself is “beautiful”, that it be describable in simple, clear terms, because the universe just is a mathematical entity.

Despite Dirac’s eccentric social behavior he was at the center of the quantum revolution in physics. I realized I had never appreciate how many theoretical contributions he made, not only in new, original concepts, like antimatter, but also in pushing existing theory to meet his mathematical standards. He worked directly with all of the leading physicists of his time, a regular visitor to the labs of Bohr in Copenhagen and Born and Heisenberg in Gottingen, as well as circulating among the theoretical and experimental physics groups at his own Cambridge. Later in life, he was a frequent visitor to the Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein and others sought him for a permanent position.

Farmelo’s writing is easy, relatively non-technical, even though this is definitely not a “page-turner”. He has the physics credentials to tell us the science side, but it is as much personal biography as intellectual biography. You won’t find a lot of equations, or even complex technical discussion. Yet I think Farmelo did a good job of going to the depth necessary to make it clear that such concepts as anti-matter evolved, in Dirac’s thought, through a compelling mathematical path rather than as blue sky speculations. This might be the greatest strength of his writing.
Drelahuginn Drelahuginn
As a pseudoscientist compared to a theoretical physicist, I enjoy reading a book about a real scientist whose brain works differently from that of most of us. For some reason I love the fact that his personality was different and the associations that went with it such as his father forcing him to speak French at breakfast every morning and if he slipped up the very next time he had a request his father would deny it. Also he spoke very little so the theoreticians who knew him said "one Dirac" is one spoken word per hour. Yet he gave amazingly beautiful and immaculate lectures in physics at Cambridge University. He also had a best friend, a fellow scientist from Russia, with whom he went mountain climbing. He truly was a great theoretical physicist who can be compared to Albert Einstein and who like Einstein derived a beautiful equation in the vein of E = mc(2). He was also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in theoretical physics in 1933. It was interesting to find toward the end of the book that the author compared his personality to that of an autistic person and found an amazing positive correlation. The book was quite long but I could not put it down until it was finished. It also enlightened me as to the period of time in which Paul Dirac worked and to the living conditions of England and Cambridge and of great theoretical physicists of the period. A wonderful read.