From Galileo to today’s amateur astronomers, scientists have been rebels, writes Freeman Dyson. Like artists and poets, they are free spirits who resist the restrictions their cultures impose on them. In their pursuit of Nature’s truths, they are guided as much by imagination as by reason, and their greatest theories have the uniqueness and beauty of great works of art.
Dyson argues that the best way to understand science is by understanding those who practice it. He tells stories of scientists at work, ranging from Isaac Newton’s absorption in physics, alchemy, theology, and politics, to Ernest Rutherford’s discovery of the structure of the atom, to Albert Einstein’s stubborn hostility to the idea of black holes. His descriptions of brilliant physicists like Edward Teller and Richard Feynman are enlivened by his own reminiscences of them. He looks with a skeptical eye at fashionable scientific fads and fantasies, and speculates on the future of climate prediction, genetic engineering, the colonization of space, and the possibility that paranormal phenomena may exist yet not be scientifically verifiable.
Dyson also looks beyond particular scientific questions to reflect on broader philosophical issues, such as the limits of reductionism, the morality of strategic bombing and nuclear weapons, the preservation of the environment, and the relationship between science and religion. These essays, by a distinguished physicist who is also a lovely writer, offer informed insights into the history of science and fresh perspectives on contentious current debates about science, ethics, and faith.
Dyson opens the window into his world of the most extraordinary people—those scientists, physicists and mathematicians in particular—who plunge into the darkest and deepest mysteries of matter and life as rebels to unlock their secrets.— Winnipeg Sun
Essays from the iconoclastic physicist who has become one of science’s most eloquent interpreters.— The New York Times, Editor’s Choice
Some readers may feel a thrill reading Dyson’s comments on military strategy; others may prefer Dyson’s thoughts on such physics-related people and issues as Isaac Newton, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, Norbert Wiener, and string theory. But whatever a reader’s passion, Dyson’s emphasis on rebels within science rather than upholders of the status quo makes the book especially satisfying.— Steve Weinberg, Booklist
In an eclectic but deeply satisfying collection, Dyson, a prize-winning physicist and prolific author…presents 33 previously published book reviews, essays and speeches….Dyson expresses his precise thinking in prose of crystal clarity, and readers will be absolutely enthralled by his breadth, his almost uncanny ability to tie diverse topics together and his many provocative statements…Virtually every chapter deserves to be savored.— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Physicist and futurist Dyson embodies the ideal of the scientist as iconoclast. In this spirited collection, he muses on the ethics of nanotech and genetic engineering, the crucial role of amateurs in science, and the richness of “nature’s imagination.” Provocative, touching, and always surprising.— Steve Silberman, Wired
Dyson offers a lovely collection of essays from his writing for The New York Review of Books. Parts 1 and 3 focus on scientists and rebels, while parts 2 and 4 are a reminder that science could be more rebellious and radical than it is. The 29 individual chapters are organized into four categories: contemporary issues, war and peace, history of science, and personal reflections…Recommended.— Choice