Zwicky: The Outcast Genius Who Unmasked the Universe

Zwicky: The Outcast Genius Who Unmasked the Universe

by John Johnson Jr.


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“A fitting biography of one of the most brilliant, acerbic, and under-appreciated astrophysicists of the twentieth century. John Johnson has delved deeply into a rich and eventful life, and produced a rollicking account of how Fritz Zwicky split his time between picking fights with his colleagues and discovering amazing things about our universe.”—Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture

Fritz Zwicky was one of the most inventive and iconoclastic scientists of his time. He predicted the existence of neutron stars, and his research pointed the way toward the discovery of pulsars and black holes. He was the first to conceive of the existence of dark matter, the first to make a detailed catalog of thousands of galaxies, and the first to correctly suggest that cosmic rays originate from supernovas.

Not content to confine his discoveries to the heavens, Zwicky contributed to the United States war against Japan with inventions in jet propulsion that enabled aircraft to launch from carriers in the Pacific. After the war, he was the first Western scientist to interview Wernher von Braun, the Nazi engineer who developed the V-2 rocket. Later he became an outspoken advocate for space exploration, but also tangled with almost every leading scientist of the time, from Edwin Hubble and Richard Feynman to J. Robert Oppenheimer and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

In Zwicky, John Johnson, Jr., brings this tempestuous maverick to life. Zwicky not only made groundbreaking contributions to science and engineering; he rose to fame as one of the most imaginative science popularizers of his day. Yet he became a pariah in the scientific community, denouncing his enemies, real and imagined, as “spherical bastards” and “horses’ asses.” Largely forgotten today, Zwicky deserves rediscovery for introducing some of the most destructive forces in the universe, and as a reminder that genius obeys no rules and has no friends.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674979673
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 09/10/2019
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 537,187
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

John Johnson Jr. spent twenty-two years at the Los Angeles Times, where he was a member of two teams that were awarded Pulitzer Prizes. He was responsible for covering space and physics for the newspaper and contributed to its reputation as a preeminent source of science reporting. He has written three science books for children and shared an IRE Medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc.

Table of Contents

1 Noted Young Men of Science 1

2 Glarus Thrust 15

On The Trail of Zwicky's Ghost: The Bones of the Earth 29

3 The Bigger and Better Elephant 31

4 Quantum Steak and Matrix Salad 47

5 The Expanding Universe and Tired Light 57

On the Trail of Zwicky's Ghost: The Skeleton of the Universe 77

6 New Alliances, New Physics 81

7 Tilting at Windmills 107

8 Rocket Man 117

9 Home Fires 138

10 Secret Missions, Finding von Braun 148

11 The March into Space 164

12 Bridges in Space 184

13 Domestic Life 203

On the Trail of Zwicky's Ghost: Did Dark Matter Rattle Its Chains? 217

14 McCarthy and Sputnik 221

15 Blue Stars and Quasars 240

16 Banishment: Even the Old Lion Must Roar 256

17 Young America Going to Pot 271

18 Magnificent Desolation 280

On the TRAIL OF Zwicky's Ghost: Mystery Unsolved 293

19 A Scientific Individual 297

Notes 313

Acknowledgments 337

Illustration Credits 341

Index 343

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