Ordinary Geniuses: Max Delbruck, George Gamow, and the Origins of Genomics andBig Bang Cosmology

Ordinary Geniuses: Max Delbruck, George Gamow, and the Origins of Genomics andBig Bang Cosmology

by Gino Segre
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

A biography of two maverick scientists whose intellectual wanderlust kick-started modern genomics and cosmology.

Max Delbruck and George Gamow, the so-called ordinary geniuses of Segre's third book, were not as famous or as decorated as some of their colleagues in midtwentieth-century physics, yet these two friends had a profound influence on how we now

Overview

A biography of two maverick scientists whose intellectual wanderlust kick-started modern genomics and cosmology.

Max Delbruck and George Gamow, the so-called ordinary geniuses of Segre's third book, were not as famous or as decorated as some of their colleagues in midtwentieth-century physics, yet these two friends had a profound influence on how we now see the world, both on its largest scale (the universe) and its smallest (genetic code). Their maverick approach to research resulted in truly pioneering science.

Wherever these men ventured, they were catalysts for great discoveries. Here Segre honors them in his typically inviting and elegant style and shows readers how they were far from "ordinary". While portraying their personal lives Segre, a scientist himself, gives readers an inside look at how science is done—collaboration, competition, the influence of politics, the role of intuition and luck, and the sense of wonder and curiosity that fuels these extraordinary minds.

Ordinary Geniuses will appeal to the readers of Simon Singh, Amir Aczel, and other writers exploring the history of scientific ideas and the people behind them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Extraordinary geniuses, like Einstein, turn our scientific worldview inside out. "Ordinary geniuses," according to University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus Segrè (Faust in Copenhagen), "are more imaginative than you and me, but not qualitatively different." Two such men were George Gamow and Max Delbrück, whose groundbreaking work inspired scientific revolutions. As students together at university in Göttingen, Germany, in the late 1920s, Geo (pronounced "Joe") and Max were fascinated by quantum mechanics. Geo quickly gained notoriety for calculating the decay probability of an unstable nucleus, a problem Ernest Rutherford had failed to solve. Later he worked out how stars burn by nuclear fusion, and the Big Bang theory of cosmology. Max itched to do "the pioneering thing," but couldn't settle on one field. Curious about connections between physics and biology, he studied genetics, where he was first to explain mutation with physics. Both men found entertainment as well as intellectual stimulation in gathering diverse minds to explore interdisciplinary connections. Segrè spins a rousing tale of scientific thought and adventure. And like his subjects, he makes a convincing case for approaching new problems with a sense of wonder. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Segre spins a rousing tale of scientific thought and adventure. And like his subjects, he makes a convincing case for approaching new problems with a sense of wonder.

Publisher's Weekly

An exuberant dual biography that integrates developments in quantum physics, cosmology and genetics since the 1920s with the lives of these two scientists.

Kirkus Reviews

Gino Segre's fascinating dual biography of George Gamow and Max Delbruck, “Ordinary Geniuses.” Gamow was a theoretical physicist who made an interesting foray into the biology of protein synthesis, while Delbruck was a theoretical physicist who became a biologist and then won the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics.

Wall Street Journal

In parallel chapters Segre has sensitively and insightfully narrated chronologically Delbruck and Gamow's personal and professional lives. And while doing so, he has clearly presented and explained their scientific contributions; the prior works on which they were based; and their present day importance and relevance.

American Scientist

Segre convincingly shows how the pair's maverick personalities led to their discoveries, while their restlessness often stopped them seeing their ideas to maturity.

New Scientist

Ordinary Geniuses makes me wistfully wonder if the world will ever again witness the coming together of such fun-loving intellectual brilliance.”
James D. Watson, author of The Double Helix


“George Gamow and Max Delbruck were free spirits and practical jokers. They broke away from the mainstream of science in the 1930s and found new ways of thinking that opened the way to new sciences in the 1950s. George invented Big Bang cosmology, and Max invented molecular biology. This book brings them magnificently to life. It gives us a fresh view of the way new sciences are born.”
Dr. Freeman Dyson, Princeton Institute for Advanced Study


Ordinary Geniuses is no ordinary book. Gino Segre, a masterly storyteller, takes us off the beaten path to view two revolutions in twentieth-century science from a novel perspective. By chronicling the lives of two renegade scientists, Max Delbruck and George Gamow, Segre puts the birth of both molecular biology and modern cosmology in a whole new light. An engaging read.”
Marcia Bartusiak, author of The Day We Found the Universe

“Gino Segre is an accomplished scientist, a gifted writer, and a meticulous scholar. His talents come together in this wonderful book, the story of the intertwining careers of two quite amazing scientists. But it is more. It is a loving ode to twentieth-century science and will enthrall as it instructs.”
Kenneth W. Ford, author of 101 Quantum Questions: What You Need to Know About the World You Can't See; former director, American Institute of Physics

“A marvelous book. Segre describes vividly how Delbruck helped to establish the new science of molecular biology while Gamow went into cosmology and originated our current view of the Big Bang. They both left major impressions on science as might be expected from “ordinary geniuses.””
Alex Rich, Sedgwick Professor of Biophysics at M.I.T.

Kirkus Reviews

Segrè (Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics, 2007, etc.) explores the extraordinary lives and scientific accomplishments of two far-from-ordinary men, Max Delbrück and George Gamow.

The author explains why he calls them "ordinary" geniuses, despite the fact that they "led two of the most important science revolutions of the twentieth century." Both were big-picture scientists, quantum physicists unwilling to rest on their laurels and unafraid of mistakes. Just as Kepler's discovery of the elliptical orbit of planets awaited Newton's gravitational theory for its realization and Bohr's model of the atom, despite being in error, was the inspiration for quantum mechanics, so it was Delbrück's research into the origins of life that inspired the work of Crick and Watson and Gamow's effort to explain the origin of atoms that earned him the title of the father of modern cosmology. In fact, Segrè's title appears to be ironic. He explains that their genius was ordinary only in comparison with the towering greats such as Einstein and Heisenberg. The author writes extensively about how Bohr supported and encouraged their work and organized fellowships for them so that they could participate in the stimulating atmosphere of his Copenhagen Institute in the formative stage of their careers, and how they sought to replicate that environment as teachers in America, where they immigrated on the eve of World War II. In the author's opinion, their "ordinary genius" was the result of qualities that we all can share—judgment, character, perseverance and willingness to think outside of the box—although he deplores the short-term practical goals that have come to dominate the scientific establishment in recent years.

An exuberant dual biography that integrates developments in quantum physics, cosmology and genetics since the 1920s with the lives of these two scientists.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670022762
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/18/2011
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.14(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Gino Segrè is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. An internationally renowned expert in high-energy elementary-particle theoretical physics, Segrè has served as director of Theoretical Physics at the National Science Foundation and received awards from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. This is his first book.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >