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Emilio Segre

In response to:

Eye on the Prize from the March 24, 1994 issue

To the Editors:

Friends concerned that Mr. Jeremy Bernstein’s review of my late husband’s book A Mind Always in Motion [NYR, March 24, 1994] would hurt me too much, tried to hide it from me. Thus, only now, did I get a chance to see it. I read it several times and, at the end, my impression was always the same: that the review was, by far, more harmful to and more revealing of Mr. Bernstein’s personality than it criticized Prof. Segrè. Anyone with a relatively good knowledge of twentieth-century physics knows that Segrè’s work and contribution to physics were anything but negligible. No matter what is said or written, his work speaks for itself.

Rosa M. Segrè
Lafayette, California

Jeremy Bernstein replies:

In response to Rosa Segrè’s deeply felt letter I would like to make three points. 1. In his book—published posthumously—Segrè writes, “I tell the truth the way it was and not the way many of my colleagues wish it had been.” In Segrè’s version of the truth there were a large number of very negative judgments made about “colleagues” who did not have the chance to defend themselves. The book was written, it would appear, with the aid and collaboration of Mrs. Segrè. People who write books of this character should expect the reactions they evoke. My review, by the way, was charitable compared to some others I have read.

  1. Negligible” is a relative term. Segrè’s “work and contribution” were negligible compared to some, and substantial compared to others. Compared to the work of—to take a few obvious examples—Fermi, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, Rabi…negligible is not a bad description. My guess is that in the history of twentieth-century physics Segrè’s work will be a footnote.

  2. I was appalled in Segrè’s book to read about his campaign to win the Nobel Prize. To me it was the scientific enterprise at its worst. A prize won this way is not worth having—Nobel or no Nobel.

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