Graham Farmelo’s The strangest man

I have been enjoying Garaham Farmelo’s The strangest man: The hidden life of Paul Dirac, quantum genius. It is a very interesting book. There are things which come as a surprise: for example,  Dirac’s encounter with Ehrenfest only months before Ehrenfest committed suicide, as described by Dirac in his letters to Bohr’s is a true surprise. The book has got good reviews too: here, for example, is one.

Having said all this, I do find Farmelo’s speculative sentences a bit irritating (“It may well have crossed Flo’s mind that Bohr would have been the perfect father for her son”, “Dirac will probably have found the celebrations a chore and will have been relieved …”). This tendency to speculate is the worst  when he starts attributing motives: “Bohr, probably wanting a piece of action, threw a grand party …”;  “… Bohr … gave a speech in English, subtly ensuring that no one overlooked his contribution to the achievements of his ‘young pupils’ “. I would have liked Farmelo’s book much better if he stuck to facts that he can marshal and stayed away from these speculations.

On a different note, if somebody can delve deep into the mystery of why the Stalinist and Hitlerian regimes took such extreme reactionary stands against quantum mechanics and relativity, that would be an interesting read — is it the (perceived) speculative nature of these theories without experimental proof, or, the attitude of the proponents of these theorists that made the non-theorists take such stands? It is clear that the practitioners and proponents of the different theories themselves were calling these theories and notions all sort of names; so,  is it that we react differently to the response of other scientists who are not theorists?


2 Responses to “Graham Farmelo’s The strangest man”

  1. k Says:

    Thanks for pointing out he speculates. I’ve noticed its a tendency few can resist. R. Guha’s India After Gandhi is choc-a-bloc with such speculations

  2. Anandaswarup Gadde Says:

    There is also a review by Freeman Dyson

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