Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century

Overview

If science has the equivalent of a Bloomsbury group, it is the five men born at the turn of the twentieth century in Budapest: Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller. From Hungary to Germany to the United States, they remained friends and continued to work together and influence each other throughout their lives. As a result, their work was integral to some of the most important scientific and political developments of the twentieth ...

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Overview

If science has the equivalent of a Bloomsbury group, it is the five men born at the turn of the twentieth century in Budapest: Theodore von Kármán, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Edward Teller. From Hungary to Germany to the United States, they remained friends and continued to work together and influence each other throughout their lives. As a result, their work was integral to some of the most important scientific and political developments of the twentieth century.
István Hargittai tells the story of this remarkable group: Wigner won a Nobel Prize in theoretical physics; Szilard was the first to see that a chain reaction based on neutrons was possible, initiated the Manhattan Project, but left physics to try to restrict nuclear arms; von Neumann could solve difficult problems in his head and developed the modern computer for more complex problems; von Kármán became the first director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, providing the scientific basis for the U.S. Air Force; and Teller was the father of the hydrogen bomb, whose name is now synonymous with the controversial "Star Wars" initiative of the 1980s. Each was fiercely opinionated, politically active, and fought against all forms of totalitarianism.
Hargittai, as a young Hungarian physical chemist, was able to get to know some of these great men in their later years, and the depth of information and human interest in The Martians of Science is the result of his personal relationships with the subjects, their families, and their contemporaries.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"What a story! Five brilliant Jewish-Hungarian kids burst out of the great secondary schools of Hungary, learn their physics in Germany, and give their all to America in WWII István Hargittai, a Jewish Hungarian like his heroes, tells the remarkable story of five immigrants of vastly different politics, without whom American science (and the world) would not be the same."—Roald Hoffman, Nobel Laureate, Ithaca, New York

"István Hargittai traces the turbulent lives of five uniquely creative scientists who survived, succeeded, and changed the world."—Arno Penzias, Nobel laureate, San Francisco

"This is an important story that needs to be told, and Hargittai tells it well."—Nature

"Hargittai's book is subtle and thoughtful."—Physics Today

Charlie Munger of WESCO Financial Corporation recommended this book at the 2007 WESCO Annual Meeting: "It is a hell of a book about five Hungarian physicists driven to the U.S. by Hitler, who contributed much to science here. I can't recommend it enough."—Charlie Munger

"fascinating and informative"—Chemical Heritage

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195365566
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 839,806
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

István Hargittai is Professor of Chemistry and head of the George A. Olah PhD School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and has lectured in some 30 countries and taught at several universities in the United States. His books include the Candid Science series of his collected interviews with famous scientists, The Road to Stockholm, and Our Lives.

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Table of Contents

1 Arrival and departure 3
2 Turning points in Germany 33
3 Second transition : to the United States 65
4 "To protect and defend" : World War II 89
5 To deter : cold war 131
6 Being Martian 187
App Sampler of quotable Martians 241
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