I did something last week that I haven’t done for a year: read a book. I do plenty of reading, but somehow books fell off the list of preferred input devices.
Time to buy a Kindle or an iPad?
In retrospect I was taking a vacation from blogging. If I’d known that in advance I’d have let you know.
A bad book might have put me off from books for years, but I chose well: The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo, a biography of the eminent theorist of quantum mechanics, Paul A. M. Dirac. A brilliant book about a difficult man and an even more difficult subject.
The author, Farmelo, earned a PhD in physics. And now he consults on technical communications. The book demonstrates that he knows how to take the counter-intuitive abstractions of quantum physics and describe them through artful examples.
But more than that, the book details the tangled history of the development of quantum mechanics, covering not just Dirac, but Heisenberg, Bohr, Fermi, Feynmann, Oppenheimer, Wigner, Bethe, Schrodinger and Kapitza. He evokes the flavor of the major pre-war research centers of European physics and makes the story a page-turner.
Dirac did not join the Manhattan Project, despite winning the Nobel Prize in his early 30s. He was a loner, possibly autistic, and made little effort to conform to social norms. The title comes from Niels Bohr’s comment that of all physicists who had visited his research institute, Dirac was the strangest.
The StorageMojo take
Quantum physics is at the root of the revolution in solid state devices that has made the computer industry incredibly successful. We don’t need to understand it to use computers, but there is something about the intellectual struggle to make sense of the universe – a process far from complete – that is endlessly fascinating.
If you are also interested in science, The Strangest Man is highly recommended.
Courteous comments welcome, of course. Dirac was appointed to the most prestigious professorship in Cambridge, the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics – once held by Isaac Newton – at the age of 29.