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Geons Black Holes And Quantum Foam [Paperback]

John Archibald Wheeler , Kenneth Ford
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 17 2000 0393319911 978-0393319910 1
John Archibald Wheeler's life brings us face to face with the central characters and discoveries of modern physics. "A powerful singularity in twentieth-century physics" (Peter Galison, Nature), he was the first American to learn of the discovery of nuclear fission, coined the term "black hole" and led the renaissance in gravitation physics.

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What are little physicists made of? Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam, in John Wheeler's science autobiography. To the rest of us, getting excited over the properties of atomic nuclei and the forces that hold invisible particles together may seem eccentric, to say the least. But physicists hold the secrets of the universe in their heads, and they have a special place in human history. Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Oppenheimer--their names are inextricably linked with the mysteries of the atom. Wheeler, among the most creative physicists of our time, tackled questions related to the nature of space, time, and gravity alongside his more well known colleagues. Renowned as a teacher, Wheeler worked with student Richard Feynman to imagine a subatomic world where particles move backward in time. With fellow physicist and former student Ken Ford, Wheeler has crafted an engaging look at the eye of the 20th-century physics hurricane. There's a lot of physics in this book, which may put off those shy of its terminology and abstractions, but the stories and photographs of the men and women who know the atom will help readers see the humanity in science, and the warmth and passion of its practitioners. This is a remarkable history of one man's part in revealing the underlying nature of everything. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

The lives of the key figures in 20th-century physics have been copiously documented in dozens of biographical and historical works. Somewhat unusually, Wheeler, perhaps best known for having coined the term black hole, chose to write his own story. The results are personal (but not especially insightful) and informative (but not especially revealing). He begins with his account of the discovery of fission and the Manhattan Project, which has been retold so many times that his anecdotes supply nothing new. Likewise, his remembrances of subsequent research into electromagnetic and gravitational fields, conducted against the backdrop of the Cold War, are honest and poignant but quite familiar to readers of this genre. Wheeler is best at explaining the significance of his own work in lay terms, and he gives an enticing view of his latest vision of physics, in which "everything is information." A rigorous scientific biography would do more justice to his career. Recommended, with reservations, for academic and larger public libraries.?Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib., Coral Gables, FL
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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First Sentence
ON MONDAY, January 16, 1939, I taught my morning class at Princeton University, then took a train to New York and walked across town to the Hudson River dock where the Danish physicist Niels Bohr was scheduled to arrive on the MS Drottningholm. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent autobiography May 4 2004
This is really a wonderful scientific biography. Wheeler has an engaging, easy-going style that doesn't sacrifice detail and scholarly accuracy for readibility. It's almost like having a fireside chat with the great physicist about the entire history of 20th century physics. Wheeler's career spanned almost the entire 20th century and he worked in many areas, from atomic and radiation physics to nuclear physics, quantum theory, black holes and gravitation. He even made a brief foray into sociology when he attended a conference and spoke on "National Survival and Human Development," in which he emphasized the importance of a country developing the full capabilities of all citizens.
In addition to learning about his own distinguished career, you meet just about every other important physicist and/or mathematician or had anything to do with physics (such as Carson Mark, who I didn't know about before, who Wheeler spoke highly of), and his account is full of interesting personal details about famous and non-famous physicists alike. Wheeler met or knew other great scientists like Einstein, Niels Bohr, Richard Feynman, Hans Bethe, Oppenheimer, Stanislaw Ulam, John von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence, Isidore Rabi, Leo Szilard, Carl Bohm, and many others too numerous to mention.
In addition to the above famous names, I also learned something about many other names, both famous and not so famous, that I didn't know much about before, and Wheeler often briefly mentions what each scientist's contribution was about, especially when it influenced his own thinking.
Wheeler provides some important insights about himself. For example, he commented on how much of his own productivity was due to the deadlines and time pressure he was under most of his career.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable scientist, admirable man Feb. 8 2001
Having noticed over the years that Prof. John Archibald Wheeler's name turns up in an amazing variety of physics-related articles and anecdotes, I was particularly primed to read his autobiography. The book doesn't follow a simple from-birth chronology, but rather begins with Wheeler teaching at Princeton and volunteering to meet the ship carrying his mentor, Niels Bohr, at a New York City dock in January of 1939. From that pivotal moment at the brink of World War II, Wheeler fills out his story by reaching back to childhood and forward to his long career in teaching, research, and national service. We learn of his brother Joe, whose body lay in a foxhole on an Italian hillside until it was reduced to bones. Wheeler reminds us that if the Manhattan Project had geared up one year earlier, the lives of his brother and many others might have been spared.
Wheeler's remarkable character pervades the book and helps make it unique and interesting. In a profession legendary for strong intellects and egos, he has achieved and maintained a pomposity coefficient of zero. His judgments of other people are unfailingly generous, but also astute enough to be interesting and revealing. He provides candid firsthand impressions of legendary figures such as Bohr, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller, Ulam, Heisenberg, Fermi, Szilard and Feynman . We also learn about many less well-known colleagues, friends and students whom he finds memorable for various reasons. In contrast to the eminent-scientist stereotype, Wheeler has always enjoyed teaching undergraduates and is genuinely interested in the problems and aspirations of the young people entrusted to his care.
Like the brilliant George Gamow, Wheeler has a talent for explaining difficult concepts and illustrating them with whimsically inventive diagrams.
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During his tenure at Princeton university, John Archibald Wheeler has served as the mentor to such outstanding physicists as Richard P. Feynman, Kip Thorne and Hugh Everett. He was also great friends with such individuals as Albert Einstein & Niels Bohr. In short, his contributions to physics have been indispensable.
This present work of his traces his life, a life that is (as the cover says) one of science. However, one of the nice facets of this book is that it goes beyond just the laboratory & reveals the personal life of this great man. We learn of the moving death of his brother in WWII, his worries and concerns over nuclear war (as well as the grapples with his conscience that he endured over the invention of the hydrogen bomb) and many other aspects of his life. He also tells stories of some of his most memorable students; not all of these were necessarily his most gifted pupils. Above all, Wheeler reveals a genuine human passion that has characterized his approach to science over the greater part of this century. One of the best biographies of a scientist I have ever read.
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J.A. Wheeler should be considered as a symbol of the really fantastic development of (primarily, theoretical) physics in this century. He was closely acquainted with practically all key figures, the founding fathers of quantum theory and the both relativities; moreover, he is the spiritual father of many other great physicists (R.P. Feynman to be named as the most outstanding of them). Wheeler's brilliant scientific achievements in quantum theory, nuclear physics and general relativity are widely known. Now we have his autobiography written in collaboration with his former student, K. Ford. This book in fact is a treatise on history of modern physics, many intimate details of the latter being outlined in it with captivating simplicity and - at the same time - full scientific rigour. This is a real treasure for every physicist, especially a lecturing one, as well as for students in physics and its history. Such an encounter with our contemporary colleague teaches and instructs us in our science, its laws of development, as well as it gives a new and profound aspiration to everybody to critically look into his/her proper behaviour in science and its vicinities. Let God and the Authors forgive me a bit of critics, but I have to mention an error in p. 143 in a caption under drawings by G. Gamow: the first of them is not of Niels Bohr, but of Paul Ehrenfest (acting as Faust), see G. Gamow, Thirty Years That Shook Physics, Dover, 1966, pp. 177-178. Some further nontrivial biographic information about J.A. Wheeler can be found in J. Bernstein, Quantum Profiles, Princeton Univ. Press, 1991.
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