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Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul…
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Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics

by Gino Segrè

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Showing 4 of 4
The Faust component of the book was minuscule and the struggle for the soul of physics (whatever that might be) was to my eyes illusory. The book was, for the most part, a series of anecdotes- most of which have been more coherently told elsewhere. I was disappointed. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
My first impression is that this is one of my favorite books ever. The physicist-author's writing is very lucid and easy to follow, despite the heavy subject matter of quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. It is, after all, mostly just the story of the people responsible for the groundbreaking discoveries, experiments, and theories leading to the so-called "big" physics era of today. Segré, I think, achieves the right amount of scientific and mathematical rigor in his explanations (there are no equations). It's just a fact that quantum mechanics and nuclear physics are hard to understand, but Segré makes it easy to appreciate the science and people behind the developments of those disciplines. I thought there were a few places that could have used maybe an additional paragraph of explanation (like when Segré first mentioned that it was proven that the nitrogen nucleus has an even amount of particles), but maybe that wouldn't have been possible. ( )
  pineapplejuggler | May 6, 2012 |
An enjoyable recounting of the lives and big events involving the major physicists of the last century. It gave me a much better appreciation of figures like Neils Bohr, Paul Dirac, Wernher Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Lise Meitner, and others. I came away with a better understanding of them as people (esp. Bohr) and of their contributions to the field (again, esp. Bohr). Pretty good stuff. ( )
  tgraettinger | Jun 25, 2010 |
Faust in Copenhagen is a pleasant and easy read about the lives and personalities of the pricipal contributors to quantum theory. The author, the son of a Noble Lauriat physicist and a first rate scientist in his own right, probably got a lot of insight into the personal interplay among the dramatis personae from talking to his father. In any event, this is a chatty book with only a minimum of physics.

On one hand, I had expected to be taught more about quantum theory, but on the other hand, what was taught was surprizingly clear. For example, I had often read that quantum theory abrogated the principle of direct causality, being able to predict future events only as probabilities. One often assumes, then, that the cause is unpredictible, mysterious, and random. Segre gives a more nuanced explanation that he attributes to Werner Heisenberg. Because of the uncertainty principle, we can never precisely measure both position and momentum of a particle; hence, we can't predict the future because we can never know where we are starting from! The problem arises from never having an exact premise from which to draw a conclusion.

Segre's explanation of Bohr's principle of complementarity is also pretty lucid. An elecctron or a photon is neither a particle nor a wave. However, the method we use to measure or observe it determines which charactistic it will exhibit. Our method of observation determines whether we will see it as a particle or a wave.

A note to any pellucid physicists reading my review, please correct me if I have mistated either the physics or Segre's explanations.

Niels Bohr comes through as a kind of saintly father figure. Everything else I have read about him confirms that impression. Segre underestimates Bohr's ability as a ping pong player, but gives him due credit as a skier, incredibly clear thinker, and leader.

Wolfgang Pauli's nickname, the Scourge of God, is well earned. Paul Dirac is amazingly literal, wondering how Heisenberg knew some women they might meet would be "nice" girls. Heisenberg is complex, though not as analytically brilliant as Dirac or Einstein. One wishes Segre had more to say about Enrico Fermi, who joined the group late in the book.

Although well written, the book is something like a fan magazine article about the great men. It succeeds very well at what it sets out to accomplish, but its goals are modest.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Dec 9, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
[A] memorable retelling of one of science's most heroic eras.
added by Katya0133 | editNew York Times Book Review, George Johnson (Jun 24, 2007)
 
Segrè describes the quantum mechanical advances and controversies in a very readable fashion for a general audience and manages to avoid the use of equations.
added by Katya0133 | editLibrary Journal, Jack W. Weigel (Jun 1, 2007)
 
Segrè effectively combines science history with the personal lives of the conference participants, offering an enlightening look at a key event in modern science and those who took part in it.
added by Katya0133 | editKirkus Reviews (May 1, 2007)
 
Segrè brings the scientists and their ideas to vivid life.
added by Katya0133 | editPublishers Weekly (Apr 9, 2007)
 
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Book description
Sette geni della fisica, sei uomini e una donna. Socievoli e introversi, libertini e castigati, giramondo e sedentari, animati da passioni comuni: l'alpinismo, la musica e la letteratura. Una comunità giovane, piccola e perfetta, che, come ogni anno, nel 1932 si riunisce all'Istituto di fisica teorica di Copenaghen. Sono i maggiori scienziati del Novecento, i titani della fisica teorica che hanno dato vita e forma alla rivoluzione quantistica. Quell'anno in Europa si celebra il centesimo anniversario della morte di Goethe. Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac, Paul Ehrenfest, Lise Meitner, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli e Max Delbrück omaggiano l'ultimo genio universale mettendo in scena il Faust. Personaggi: Bohr-il Signore, Pauli-Mefistofele, il tormentato Ehrenfest-Faust, il neutrino-Margherita. Per la piccola brigata il 1932 è l'anno del miracolo. Questi giovani hanno scoperto, in rapida successione, il neutrone e il positrone e, per la prima volta in laboratorio, hanno indotto la disintegrazione del nucleo atomico, aprendo le porte all'era nucleare. Ma qualcosa di terribile si prepara per il mondo intero: quello è anche l'anno che prelude all'ascesa di Hitler, al cammino verso la guerra. Gli scienziati saranno costretti a essere complici della macchina bellica e a subire condizionamenti politici e militari.
(piopas)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067003858X, Hardcover)

A fascinating look at the landmark 1932 gathering of the biggest names in physics

Known by physicists as the "miracle year," 1932 saw the discovery of the neutron and the first artificially induced nuclear transmutation. However, while physicists celebrated these momentous discoveries—which presaged the era of big science and nuclear bombs—Europe was moving inexorably toward totalitarianism and war. In April of that year, about forty of the world’s leading physicists—including Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner, and Paul Dirac—came to Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen Institute for their annual informal meeting about the frontiers of physics.

Physicist Gino Segrè brings to life this historic gathering, which ended with a humorous skit based on Goethe’s Faust—a skit that eerily foreshadowed events that would soon unfold. Little did the scientists know the Faustian bargains they would face in the near future. Capturing the interplay between the great scientists as well as the discoveries they discussed and debated, Segrè evokes the moment when physics—and the world—was about to lose its innocence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Known to physicists as the "miracle year," 1932 saw the discovery of the neutron and the first artificially induced nuclear transmutation. However, while physicists celebrated these momentous discoveries--which presaged the era of big science and nuclear bombs--Europe was moving inexorably toward totalitarianism and war. In April of that year, about forty of the world's leading physicists--including Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner, and Paul Dirac--came to Niels Bohr's Copenhagen Institute for their annual informal meeting about the frontiers of physics. Physicist Gino Segrè brings to life this historic gathering, which ended with a humorous skit based on Goethe's Faust--little knowing the Faustian bargains they would face in the near future. Capturing the interplay between the great scientists as well as the discoveries they discussed and debated, Segrè evokes the moment when physics--and the world--was about to lose its innocence.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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