Posts Tagged ‘biography’

Einstein on Gibbs

December 20, 2012

Of Gibbs he wrote:`[His] book is … a masterpiece, even though it is hard to read and the main points are found between the lines’. A year before his death, Einstein paid Gibbs the highest compliment. When asked who were the greatest men, the most powerful thinkers he had known, he replied ‘Lorentz,’ and added, ‘I never met Willard Gibbs; perhaps, had I done so,  I might have placed him beside Lorentz’

From Abraham Pais’ Subtle is the Lord…: The science and life of Albert Einstein. I first read the book sometime in 1991-1992. I am reading it again and my comprehension of the details is much better this time around. Enjoyable and strongly recommended by the way (and, an Oxford lives paperback is available for about 400 rupees)!

Economists — the popular and not-so-popular

December 3, 2007

Brad DeLong reviews McCraw’s biography of Schumpeter for the Chronicle of Higher Education (via A&L Daily). Here is the first paragraph of the review:

My guess is that average literate Americans know of three 20th-century economists: John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, and Alan Greenspan. Perhaps they also know of Paul Samuelson (but as textbook author, not economic theorist), of Friedrich Hayek (but think that he is the father of an actress), and of John Kenneth Galbraith (as William F. Buckley Jr.’s friend who appeared on TV). The rest of us disappear into a blur of gray suits, spectacles, and, usually, baldness — an assemblage of personalities too bland to be successful accountants.

That reminded me of an article in Financial Times by John Kay which tried to answer the question as to which economists leave lasting legacies and why. By the way, DeLong also discusses something akin to that question in his review with specific reference to Schumpeter:

Back in 1970, the economist Harry G. Johnson pointed out that all successful founders of schools not only are geniuses with profound insights but also provide a road map that tells their followers and successors what to do to make a successful academic career within the school. Schumpeter did not do that second part.

A nice review. Take a look!

Before I end this post, here are a couple of links to what Tyler Cowen and Economic Principals had to say about the book.

Most consoling of literary icons

November 13, 2007

That is what Dinah Birch calls Sherlock Homes while  reviewing two recent biographies of his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle (link via A&L Daily):

It is odd that so much comfort is to be had from Sherlock Holmes, given the brutal violence of his adventures. Not only are those who cross his path routinely shot, bludgeoned, or knifed, they run the risk of being starved, buried alive, attacked by huge and frenzied hounds, killed by horses, jellyfish, or venomous snakes, asphyxiated with toxic vapours, afflicted with foul diseases, or crushed in giant iron presses. They might lose a thumb or an ear; occasionally they lose their minds. Yet Holmes is the most consoling of literary icons. He cannot always prevent crime or punish the criminal, but he never fails to explain what has happened, and how, and why. The prosaic Watson likes to claim that his hero is infallible because he scorns the emotional baggage that befuddles the judgement of lesser men. In fact these stories are tense with feeling, for Holmes’s hatred of wrongdoing is a passion rather than an intellectual commitment.

Take a look!

What made Ernst Mayr

October 13, 2007

The greatest evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century? Jared Diamond, in his review of Ornithology, Evolution, and Philosphy: The Life and Science of Ernst Mayr 1904–2005 by Juergen Haffer describes one of the characteristics of Mayr as a partial answer:

Returning from an expedition to New Guinea in 1965, John Terborgh and I laid out our hundreds of bird specimens in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for Ernst Mayr to identify. Ernst had made only one collecting trip to New Guinea 36 years previously, and his last publication on New Guinea birds had appeared in 1954. Nevertheless, as he walked along the shelf and glanced at one specimen after another, he quickly identified each by its Latin species name and then by its subspecies name; he told us which zoologist had described it, in what year and in which journal; gave the alternative names under which other zoologists had discussed it; and explained its broader biological significance (for example, “Check that one for altitudinal hybridization”). He hesitated only at one obscurely mottled specimen: “See if that’s a female Rhagologus.” We found later that it was indeed a female Rhagologus, a whistler whose relatives are usually banded black and gold.

Fascinating, isn’t it? There are more such interesting information in the piece — that Mayr worked for 18 hours a day for 16 months to finish his PhD thesis; and that he published his 21st book when he was hundred years old, and seven papers after that,  and so on. Though Diamond thinks that the book itself is not for public consumption, his review can certainly be read by everybody with profit. Take a look!