The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

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9780465018277: The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, the most revolutionary theory of the past century, his contributions had a unique insight, eloquence, clarity, and mathematical power. His prediction of antimatter was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of physics. One of Einstein’s most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Dirac’s personality is legendary. He was an extraordinarily reserved loner, relentlessly literal-minded and appeared to have no empathy with most people. Yet he was a family man and was intensely loyal to his friends. His tastes in the arts ranged from Beethoven to Cher, from Rembrandt to Mickey Mouse.

Based on previously undiscovered archives, The Strangest Man reveals the many facets of Dirac’s brilliantly original mind. A compelling human story, The Strangest Man also depicts a spectacularly exciting era in scientific history.

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About the Author:

Graham Farmelo is senior research fellow at the Science Museum, London, and adjunct professor of physics at Northeastern University. His previous books include It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science. He lives in Richmond, England.

Review:

American Scientist
“[A] highly readable and sympathetic biography of the taciturn British physicist who can be said, with little exaggeration, to have invented modern theoretical physics. The book is a real achievement, alternately gripping and illuminating.”

Natural History
“Farmelo’s eloquent and empathetic examination of Dirac’s life raises this book above the level of workmanlike popularization. Using personal interviews, scientific archives, and newly released documents and letters, he’s managed – as much as anyone could – to dispel the impression of the physicist as a real-life Mr. Spock, the half Vulcan of Star Trek.”

Science
“[A] consummate and seamless biography.... Farmelo has succeeded masterfully in the difficult genre of writing a great scientist’s life for a general audience.”

Physics Today
“[An] excellent biography of a hero of physics.... [I]n The Strangest Man, we are treated to a fascinating, thoroughly researched, and well-written account of one of the most important figures of modern physics.”
Kirkus *Starred Review*
“Paul Dirac was a giant of 20th-century physics, and this rich, satisfying biography does him justice.... [A] nuanced portrayal of an introverted eccentric who held his own in a small clique of revolutionary scientific geniuses.”

Library Journal
“Farmelo did not pick the easiest biography to write – its subject lived a largely solitary life in deep thought. But Dirac was also beset with tragedy... and in that respect, the author proposes some novel insights into what shaped the man. This would be a strong addition to a bibliography of magnificent 20th-century physicist biographies, including Walter Issacson’s Einstein, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and James Gleick’s Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.”

American Journal of Physics
“[A] very moving biography.... It would have been easy to simply fill the biography with Dirac stories of which there is a cornucopia, many of which are actually true. But Farmelo does much more than that. He has met and spoken with people who knew Dirac including the surviving members of his family. He has been to where Dirac lived and worked and he understands the physics. What has emerged is a 558 page biography, which is a model of the genre. Dirac was so private and emotionally self-contained that one wonders if anyone really knew him. Farmelo’s book is as close as we are likely to come."

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