The Communist Bomb

The history of nuclear weapons is, as David Holloway writes, at once fascinating and repulsive. It is an exciting tale of discovery and invention, but it tells of weapons that could destroy all life on earth. The history of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union is doubly fascinating and doubly …

The Bomb That Never Was

During World War II the scientists and technicians in Britain and the US who were building an atom bomb feared that Nazi Germany might produce such a weapon first. Yet at the end of the war it became clear that there had been no such threat. Not only was no …

The Uncertain Scientist

Werner Heisenberg was undoubtedly one of the greatest physicists of this century. In 1925, at the age of twenty-three, he wrote the paper that laid the foundations of quantum mechanics on which all subsequent generations have built. This was not just an extension or elaboration of the work of others, …

Making It

Many books have been written about the history of nuclear weapons, and they have become more detailed as more information, previously inaccessible, is made available. But Richard Rhodes’s book seems unique, not only for its length of 886 pages (788 without the notes), but for his unusually broad interpretation of …

Conservative Revolutionary

The title of John Heilbron’s biography of the physicist Max Planck, The Dilemmas of an Upright Man, is well chosen. The chief characteristics of Planck were his integrity, his feeling for tradition, and his sense of duty. Yet throughout his adult life he faced conflicts, some of which involved reversing …

What Einstein Did

Albert Einstein was not only respected and admired by his fellow scientists as probably the greatest physicist of this century but he also achieved extraordinary fame among people who did not have the least idea of his work. What did he accomplish? Although he is most widely known as the …

Quantum Squabbles

According to their authors, both books under review set out to portray an epoch in physics through the medium of a biography. The period dealt with is almost the same, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though one story extends into the Fifties, whereas the other ends effectively in …

Odd Couple

The subjects of this biography, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener, were two mathematicians of outstanding ability. Their careers had a few features in common: both were infant prodigies; both started in the most abstract fields of pure mathematics, and derived some of their inspiration from David Hilbert in Göttingen.

One Culture

C.P. Snow had an unusually wide range of interests and many different talents, but he probably was at his best in crisply summing up people and situations. I recall from my own experience the occasions when he used to visit the universities during the war, with his friend and assistant …

Atomic Germans

Physics went through a major revolution in the first quarter of this century. It was started by Max Planck and Niels Bohr, whose use of the idea of the quantum of action brought order into a wide range of phenomena concerning the structure of matter and the nature of atoms, …