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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2009

    A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening biography of one of the greatest minds in physics

    While there are no equations and any theoretical concept is clearly explained in simple English, I don't think anyone who hasn't studied quantum mechanics will fully appreciate this book. This book brings to life and puts a human face on Dirac as well as Schroedinger, Bohr, Heissenberg, Einstein and the rest of the pantheon of 20th century theoretical physicists. For me, until I read this book, Dirac was only a name associated with a bunch of abstruse mathematical equations. I am indebted to Farmelo for introducing me to the Dirac who took long walks; who had trouble with his digestion; who was adored ( to excess ) by his mother; who was distant from his father and so on.

    From the vantage point of 2009, his predictions are taken for granted. While Farmelo writes of Dirac's worries and insecurities concerning some of the consequences of the equation that bears his name, I was screaming "positrons, gentlemen" at the book.

    The actions and concerns of Dirac before, during and immediately after WWII drove home the fact that Paul Dirac was a real human with worries about his friends and family as well as an unmatched theoretical physicist.

    For anyone with a scientific bent this book is a must read for experiencing the excitement of the development of quantum mechanics while learning to appreciate how much sweat was needed to write those equations.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    If you know why Dirac is famous, you'll love this book

    A nicely written and surprisingly revealing biography of a notoriously uncommunicative man. Dirac's discoveries are particularly well-known among physicists for an uncanny originality, almost as though they had been communicated to Earth by a benificent extraterrestrial, and Dirac's reluctance to enter into conversation has always made the nature of his thought and personality particularly impenetrable. The author is particularly brave, and fair, in discussing the question of whether Dirac had Asperger's syndrome.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2010

    A Life

    The biography of P. A. M. Dirac is compelling; beautifully written!
    Dirac was as contemporary of Albert Einstein, and his science and his life story share elements in common with that of Einstein.
    Yet there are hundreds of Einstein biographies, to my knowledge, this is a first for Dirac. While Einstein reveled in the glare of the press, Dirac shunned it.
    Both won the Nobel Prize in physics, Dirac for his pioneering role in quantum mechanics, his equation for the electron, his discovery of the positron, and his mathematics. His book Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1930) is still the bible in the subject.
    On top of this he pioneered quantum electrodynamics.
    While both protected their privacy, Dirac avoided statements to the press, and avoided the limelight going along with fame.
    His story is compelling: an abusive father, his reaction to a horrible childhood, a hate-filled home, the suicide of his brother. If anyone outside science knows anything about the private Paul Dirac, they are likely to know that he was a man of few words, answering questions with yes, no; or more likely "I don't know!"
    Perhaps Dirac felt that nature and science is expressed in the language of mathematics, and that words by comparison tend to be empty.
    And Dirac often argued that the more profound insight is more likely to be uncovered in a beautiful mathematical equation; as opposed to hard experiments!
    The author Farmelo (his earlier book It Must Be Beautiful) seems to be born to tell the story of Dirac. It is compelling, and the characters are brought to light, each in a portrait that makes them real: other scientists, Heisenberg, Bohr, and especially his lifelong friend and experimental physicist Peter Kapitza from the Soviet Union; later Nobel for his discovery of superfluidity of liquid helium.
    And his wife, the sister of the Princeton physicist Eugene Wigner; an extrovert, and in personality the opposite of Paul Dirac.
    At conferences Eugene Wigner, famous for his modesty, referred to his "famous brother-in law!"
    The periods of Dirac's life span his childhood in England, his career in Cambridge, his travels to the Soviet union before and during the Cold War, and his retirement in Florida, USA.
    I met him once at lunch when he was visiting his son in Aarhus where I was teaching at the time!
    There is some science in the book, but mostly it is about Dirac's life.
    It has become popular to speculate that geniuses might have suffered from some form of undiagnosed autism, to account for their character quirks. Personally I believe this is unlikely.
    Reviewed by Palle Jorgensen, February 2010.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Inside the Life of Paul Dirac

    Along with being an excellent character study of a man who grew up with a mentally abusive father and a victimized mother, this is a biography that draws the reader into the time and relationships of the ground breaking scientist of the 20th Century.Paul Dirac, a little known name outside of the scientific community, was one of the greatest minds in theoretical physics.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2009

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    Posted April 5, 2014

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