The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age

by David N. Schwartz


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The definitive biography of the brilliant, charismatic, and very human physicist and innovator Enrico Fermi

In 1942, a team at the University of Chicago achieved what no one had before: a nuclear chain reaction. At the forefront of this breakthrough stood Enrico Fermi. Straddling the ages of classical physics and quantum mechanics, equally at ease with theory and experiment, Fermi truly was the last man who knew everything — at least about physics. But he was also a complex figure who was a part of both the Italian Fascist Party and the Manhattan Project, and a less-than-ideal father and husband who nevertheless remained one of history's greatest mentors. Based on new archival material and exclusive interviews, The Last Man Who Knew Everything lays bare the enigmatic life of a colossus of twentieth century physics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465072927
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 12/05/2017
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 286,393
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

David N. Schwartz holds a PhD in political science from MIT and is the author of two previous books. He has worked at the State Department Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, and at Goldman Sachs in a variety of roles in both London and New York. He lives in New York with his wife, Susan. His father, Melvin Schwartz, shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1988.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction xiii

Part 1 Becoming Fermi

Chapter 1 Prodigy 3

Chapter 2 Pisa 20

Chapter 3 Germany and Holland 31

Chapter 4 Quantum Breakthroughs 44

Chapter 4 Of Geckos and Men 53

Part 2 The Rome Years

Chapter 6 Family Life 63

Chapter 7 The Rome School 80

Chapter 8 Beta Rays 95

Chapter 9 Goldfish 107

Chapter 10 Physics as Soma 126

Chapter 11 The Nobel Prize 137

Part 3 The Manhattan Project

Chapter 12 The New World 149

Chapter 13 Splitting the Atom 156

Chapter 14 Fermi Meets the Navy 166

Chapter 15 Piles of Graphite 178

Chapter 16 The Move to Chicago 187

Chapter 17 "We're Cookin!" 205

Chapter 18 Xenon-135 217

Chapter 19 On a Mesa 234

Chapter 20 An Unholy Trinity 256

Part 4 The Chicago Years

Chapter 21 Return to Chicago 271

Chapter 22 In the Public Eye 297

Chapter 23 A Patent Fight 314

Chapter 24 Brilliant Teacher, Beloved Mentor 323

Chapter 25 Travels Abroad 333

Chapter 26 Home to Die 340

Chapter 27 Fermi's Legacy 350

Acknowledgments 367

Credits 373

Notes 375

Bibliography 419

Index 437

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