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"Starred Review. Reeves deploys his considerable writing skill in portraying Rutherford's personality ... capturing the full aspect of the man."—Booklist
Born in colonial New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford grew up on the frontier—a different world from Cambridge, to which he won a scholarship at the age of twenty-four. His work revolutionized modern physics. Among his discoveries were the orbital structure of the atom and the concept of the "half-life" of radioactive materials. Rutherford and the young men working under him were the first to split the atom, unlocking tremendous forces—forces, as Rutherford himself predicted, that would bring us the atomic bomb. In Richard Reeves's hands, Rutherford comes alive, a ruddy, genial man and a pivotal figure in scientific history.
Hardly a household name today, New Zealand-born scientist Ernest Rutherford was a celebrity in the early 1900s rivaling Einstein. Whereas Einstein conducted most of his experiments in his head, Rutherford (1871-1937) was an avid tabletop experimenter who won the Nobel Prize when he was only in his late 30s for his research into radioactive decay. Reeves (President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination) explores how this loud, rough-around-the-edges antipodean, who often carried chunks of radioactive material in his pocket, cracked Cambridge's snobbish elitism and became head of the university's prestigious Cavendish Laboratory. Using sealing wax and string to hitch together contraptions that would be laughed out of high school science fairs today, Rutherford discovered the structure of the atom. He also went far beyond most of his colleagues to help scientists fleeing Nazi Germany. Late in his career, Rutherford's team, using hand-me-down equipment in their cramped Cavendish quarters, beat out international competition to be the first to split the atom. Fans of scientific biographies will enjoy this detailed little portrait of one of the great figures in 20th-century physics. 12 illus. not seen by PW. (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) is not a name that comes to mind regarding early 20th-century scientists. Yet, historian Reeves (President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination), who also holds an engineering degree from New Jersey's Stevens Institute of Technology where Rutherford conducted a groundbreaking experiment in 1909, would have us believe that Einstein and Rutherford are two sides of the same "scientific" coin, Einstein being the theorist and Rutherford the experimentalist. Reeves takes us on a tour of Rutherford's life and work that extends from New Zealand to England to Canada and back to England. Where Einstein gave us mathematical insight into the atomic world, Rutherford gave us the experiments and experimental methods that exposed it. And Reeves, for his part, sheds light on academia's rivalries and prejudices and the scientific vortices in which Rutherford often found himself. We also glimpse that amazing, almost mythological period of scientific research during the first half of the 20th century. Physics 101 not required to enjoy this introduction to another giant of the time; recommended for popular science collections.
—Margaret F. Dominy