Niels Bohr's Times: In Physics, Philosophy, and Polity

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Abraham Pais's life of Albert Einstein was one of the finest scientific biographies ever written. When it first appeared in 1982, Christian Science Monitor called it "an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary man," and Timothy Ferris, in The New York Times Book Review, said it was "the biography of Einstein he himself would have liked best," adding that "it is a work against which future scientific biographies will be measured." As a respected physicist himself, Pais was the first biographer to give ...
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Overview


Abraham Pais's life of Albert Einstein was one of the finest scientific biographies ever written. When it first appeared in 1982, Christian Science Monitor called it "an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary man," and Timothy Ferris, in The New York Times Book Review, said it was "the biography of Einstein he himself would have liked best," adding that "it is a work against which future scientific biographies will be measured." As a respected physicist himself, Pais was the first biographer to give Einstein's thinking its full due, yet despite the occasional high level of science needed to discuss Einstein's ideas, the book was a national bestseller. Indeed, it was one of The New York Times's Best Books of the Year, and the winner of the 1983 American Book Award for Science.
Now Pais turns to Niels Bohr, to illuminate the life and thought of another giant of 20th-century physics. Bohr was the first to understand how atoms were put together, he played a major role in shaping the theory of the atomic nucleus, he decoded the atomic spectrum of hydrogen, an achievement which marks him as the founder of the quantum dynamics of atoms, and his concept of complementarity (which provides the philosophical underpinning for quantum theory) qualifies him as one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers. Pais covers all of these achievements with sophistication and clarity, but he also reveals the many other facets of the man. Perhaps most important, he shows that Bohr was not only a great scientist, but also a great nurturer of young scientific talent, acting as father figure extraordinaire for several generations of physicists. Bohr's Institute of Theoretical Physics, which he founded in Copenhagen and for which he tirelessly raised funds, was the world's leading center for physics all through the 1920s and 1930s, the birthplace of Heisenberg's papers on the uncertainty relations, Dirac's first paper on quantum electrodynamics, and other pivotal works. And Pais reveals as well the personal side of Bohr, the avid reader and crossword puzzle solver (Bohr loved Icelandic sagas, Goethe and Schiller, Dickens and Mark Twain--while studying in England early in his career, he improved his English by reading The Pickwick Papers with a dictionary to one side); his aid to Jews and other refugees in the 1930s and during the war; the tragic loss of his son Christian (who died in a sailing accident right before Bohr's eyes); and his attempts during and after the war to promote openness between East and West, meeting with both Roosevelt and Churchill (the former was quite courteous, the latter lectured Bohr like a schoolboy).
Bohr's research, his teaching, his friendships with the major scientists of our time, his aid to refugees, his role as philosopher, administrator, and fund raiser, his devotion to science and to his family--all these qualities are illuminated by Pais in a marvelous biography that captures the essence of one of the best-loved figures of this century.

The acclaimed biographer of Albert Einstein now turns to Niels Bohr in this illumination of the life and thought of another giant of 20th-century physics. A marvelous biography that captures the essence of the man who was the first to understand how atoms were put together, it also reveals the personal side of Bohr, the avid reader and puzzle solver. 10 line drawings. 33 plates.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Pais (Subtle is the Lord) now turns to Niels Bohr to illuminate the life and thought of this giant of 20-century physics. Bohr played a major role in shaping the theory of the atomic nucleus; he decoded the atomic spectrum of hydrogen--founding the quantum dynamics of atoms; and his concept of complementarity (which provides philosophical underpinning for quantum theory) qualifies him as one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers. An essential for all science related collections. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198520481
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/20/1994
  • Series: Sloan Science Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 604
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.19 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Abraham Pais is Detlev W. Bronk Professor of Physics Emeritus at Rockefeller University in New York. He is also the author of 'Subtle is the Lord...' (for which he won an American Book Award) and Inward Bound.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    Captivating!

    Written before the popular Broadway play, "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn, Pais' book covers the Heisenberg-Bohr meeting in 1941[the real one],--- and there is a lot more! We are fortunate that Pais has given us this, and several other wonderful biographies;-- the one about Albert Einstein stands out! It is especially fortunate that he has chosen to write for the general public. I can't think of anyone who did, or possibly could have done it better. His writing is captivating, and unique in its recreation of the times, and the social context of the scientific events. Pais further succeds magnificently in bringing to life the many colorful personalities and players in the drama of quantum physics in the Twentieth Century. Even if you might perhaps not be scientifically inclined, and if you choose to skip the physics sections, I don't think you will be disappointed.

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