Jeremy Bernstein is a theoretical physicist and the author, most recently, of A Bouquet of Numbers and Other Scientific Offerings, a collection of essays.
 (December 2016).

IN THE REVIEW

Great Scientists Against Terrible Odds

The physicist Friedrich Houtermans, Göttingen, Germany, 1937

Physics in a Mad World

edited by M. Shifman and translated from the Russian by James Manteith
In the 1930s German and Russian scientists of Jewish origin were treated quite differently. The German scientists were automatically “guilty” if they had more than one eighth Jewish “blood.” In Russia they had to be guilty of doing something. Until October 1941 Jews were encouraged to leave Germany and most …

The Trump Bomb

I recently offered to tutor Donald Trump on nuclear matters. To put things clearly, I went on his website and in the place where you could send comments, I began mine by saying that on these things he did not seem to know his ass from a wheel. I felt that as a person who seems to like straight talk he might appreciate my candor.

NYR DAILY

Which Countries Will Get the Bomb?

Scientists inspecting Iraq’s first nuclear reactor in Baghdad, supplied by the Soviets, February 1968

The US now has a president-elect who has openly suggested that our allies take responsibility for their own nuclear deterrence. If, say, South Korea or Saudi Arabia began to pursue a bomb, how likely might they be to succeed? History offers us a number of insights about this. Among the countries that succeeded were Israel and South Africa and among those that didn’t were Libya and Iraq.

The Iran Deal: Myth and Reality

Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, Iran, January 15, 2011

Enough time has passed since the deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program that one can begin to make a rational assessment about how successful it has been at limiting Iran’s nuclear capacity and bringing its program under international oversight. My view is that the deal has been more successful than I expected, although there are flaws.

North Korea’s Mystery Bomb

A map of seismic waves from North Korea’s nuclear test, Korea Meteorological Administration, Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016

On January 6, North Korea detonated a nuclear device with a yield larger than that of any previous North Korean test, but the kind of bomb tested remains a mystery. Most likely, the bomb was a “boosted device.” This is a very serious matter because these weapons, while having an enhanced yield, can be made light enough to fit on rockets, which the North Koreans have in abundance.

Einstein: Right and Wrong

Among the cosmological phenomena that the theory of relativity successfully predicted was one that Einstein could never accept: the existence of black holes. In fact, in the late 1930s he wrote a paper that purported to show that black holes were impossible. A referee rejected this paper, concluding that it contained mistakes—something that at first made Einstein quite angry until he realized that the referee was right.