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True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen Paperback – Oct 30 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 467 pages
  • Publisher: National Academy Press; 1 edition (Oct. 30 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0309095115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0309095112
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #965,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The fact that he won an unprecedented two Nobel prizes in physics (in 1956 and 1972) may be the only extraordinary thing about John Bardeen. He grew up in a middle-class home in Wisconsin with his doctor father, interior designer mother and four siblings. He apparently worked hard, cared deeply about his family, loved sports, was, by all accounts, a gracious and likable colleague and devoted himself to his graduate students. He was also tenacious in pursuit of answers to complex problems in his discipline. Working with William Shockley and Walter Brattain, Bardeen developed the world's first transistor in 1947 and, ten years later, with J. Robert Schrieffer and Leon Cooper, he created a theory of superconductivity. Hoddeson (Crystal Fire) and Daitch attempt a portrait of this unassuming Midwesterner, but offer little more than a rough sketch. As they write in their preface, "We are painfully aware that this book merely scratches the surface of its subject." Little insight is offered beyond descriptions of Bardeen's friends, co-workers and activities. The authors attempt to provide a conceptual framework by examining "the meaning of true scientific genius," but this is largely done in a superficial, 17-page epilogue. Bardeen deserves more public recognition than he received during his life; this book may help in some measure, but it won't bring readers any closer to the man himself.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

"John Bardeen was one of the most important and prolific physicists of the twentieth century, on par with the likes of Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, but the general public hardly knows his name. In this eloquent and entertaining biography, Lillian Hoddeson captures the true essence of this quiet, gentle genius."
-- Michael Riordan, author of The Hunting of the Quark and coauthor of Crystal Fire

"If we agree that science literacy is key to the 21st century, then True Genius is one of the most important books of our times. Hoddeson and Daitch have created a masterpiece of biography, illuminating the creative work of a scientific genius, but also the human values, strengths and qualities that must guide, moderate and ultimately determine the fruitfulness of the extraordinary mind."
-- Leon M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate, author of The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? and co-author of From Quarks to the Cosmos: Tools of Discovery

"A sensitive and inspiring portrait of one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. This excellent biography should redefine what it means to be a genius."
-- Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

"An easy-flowing personal and scientific biography of John Bardeen, who arguably was the most important American physicist. His transistor started modern electronics, the basis of modern technology. Subsequently, he explained superconductivity, a problem which had baffled many other famous physicists."
-- Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University

"A quiet revolutionary in science was John Bardeen, reticent, deep, intuitive--and a formidable subject for a biographer. Now his science and his personality have been thoughtfully, knowledgeably, lovingly opened up."
-- Horace Freeland Judson, author of The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Format: Hardcover
I should really write two reviews. One with a rating of four stars, and one with five. Then the average will be 4.5, which I feel is the right rating. I have only two complaints. First, the discussion of minority carrier injection was not clear to me. I went back to the April 1992 issue of "Physics Today." There, the discussion is done just right,the importance of holes is clear. Second, the issue of "genius" and it's identification and cultivation in chapter 17 did not appeal to me. In my opinion, if we were to conclude with a jumping off point from Bardeen's life, it would be to address the question "why is he so unknown today?" That would have been a good epilogue. It's a good question. In W. H. Cropper's book "Great Physicists: etc." Bardeen is not mentioned. A real shame. Bardeen easily ranks with the physicists in that book.
But there really is so much to enjoy in this book. Although born in Wisconsin, and not Minnesota, Bardeen would have been so comfortable in Garrison Keillor's world. Bardeen seems straight out of Lake Wobegone and names like Clarence Bunsen and Florian Krebsbach kept coming to mind. Here was a loyal, moral, dedicated man, focused on his life and work, but needing few words to talk about it. Together with Brattain and Schockley (sort of), Bardeen invents the transistor, comes home to his wife, who is cooking dinner, and says to her, "we discovered something today." Wife Jane says, "that's great." After unraveling one of the greatest puzzles in all of physics, Bardeen says to Charles Slichter, "well, I think we've figured out superconductivity." Wonderful, News from Lake Wobegone stuff. (Hoddeson and Daitch's discussion of superconductivity is quite good, by the way.)
But that's the fun part. In the physics world, there are so few Bardeens.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I read the brief "Publishers Weekly" review for True Genius, as well as the more cryptic but more positive comments of others. From the very first sentence I knew that the "Publishers Weekly" review would be superficial, and maybe even wrong, which then is of what help to a reader and potential book customer? Living in the U.S. democracy, how can we not be curious and not read about the Founders? Similarly, how can we be immersed in all the new electronics (computers, cell phones, DVD and CD machines, MRI's, digital machinery---in fact, Si here, Si there, Si everywhere) and not be curious about how all this happened, what sort of ingenious mind, or minds, might be at the beginning of it all? Imagine the calamity on the planet if the transistor vanished for a day. Does that help in understanding the scale of a Bardeen, of "True Genius"! I knew John Bardeen for 40 years (as my teacher, friend, colleague) and still I learned something further from Hoddeson and Daitch and the material they unearthed for "True Genius", a fascinating biography (a different kind of story). Hoddeson and Daitch do not disappoint in their biography of Bardeen and in elucidating over many chapters his kind of genius, which "Publishers Weekly" doesn't seem to appreciate. Genius is a diamond of many facets, and Hoddeson and Daitch reveal a Bardeen facet. It isn't the last chapter of "True Genius" that matters. It's the whole book, all the chapters, that reveal an American hero---if you will, a genius.
Nick Holonyak, Jr.
John Bardeen Chair Professor of
Electrical and Computer
Engineering and Physics, and
Center for Advanced Study
Professor of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL
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Format: Hardcover
John Bardeen was one of the most important and prolific physicists of the twentieth century, on par with the likes of Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, but the general public hardly knows his name. In this eloquent and entertaining biography, Lillian Hoddeson and Vicki Daitch capture the true essence of this quiet, gentle genius. They bring forth aspects of the warm, genuiune man behind the science that gave humanity the transistor and solved the almost intractable problem of superconductivity. Bardeen was a giant of 20th century science, and "True Genius" is the definitive story of his life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Diamond of many facets Nov. 12 2002
By Nick Holonyak, Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I read the brief "Publishers Weekly" review for True Genius, as well as the more cryptic but more positive comments of others. From the very first sentence I knew that the "Publishers Weekly" review would be superficial, and maybe even wrong, which then is of what help to a reader and potential book customer? Living in the U.S. democracy, how can we not be curious and not read about the Founders? Similarly, how can we be immersed in all the new electronics (computers, cell phones, DVD and CD machines, MRI's, digital machinery---in fact, Si here, Si there, Si everywhere) and not be curious about how all this happened, what sort of ingenious mind, or minds, might be at the beginning of it all? Imagine the calamity on the planet if the transistor vanished for a day. Does that help in understanding the scale of a Bardeen, of "True Genius"! I knew John Bardeen for 40 years (as my teacher, friend, colleague) and still I learned something further from Hoddeson and Daitch and the material they unearthed for "True Genius", a fascinating biography (a different kind of story). Hoddeson and Daitch do not disappoint in their biography of Bardeen and in elucidating over many chapters his kind of genius, which "Publishers Weekly" doesn't seem to appreciate. Genius is a diamond of many facets, and Hoddeson and Daitch reveal a Bardeen facet. It isn't the last chapter of "True Genius" that matters. It's the whole book, all the chapters, that reveal an American hero---if you will, a genius.
Nick Holonyak, Jr.
John Bardeen Chair Professor of
Electrical and Computer
Engineering and Physics, and
Center for Advanced Study
Professor of Electrical and
Computer Engineering
University of Illinois
Urbana, IL
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Overall, a Fine Portrait Feb. 3 2003
By K. Luey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I should really write two reviews. One with a rating of four stars, and one with five. Then the average will be 4.5, which I feel is the right rating. I have only two complaints. First, the discussion of minority carrier injection was not clear to me. I went back to the April 1992 issue of "Physics Today." There, the discussion is done just right,the importance of holes is clear. Second, the issue of "genius" and it's identification and cultivation in chapter 17 did not appeal to me. In my opinion, if we were to conclude with a jumping off point from Bardeen's life, it would be to address the question "why is he so unknown today?" That would have been a good epilogue. It's a good question. In W. H. Cropper's book "Great Physicists: etc." Bardeen is not mentioned. A real shame. Bardeen easily ranks with the physicists in that book.
But there really is so much to enjoy in this book. Although born in Wisconsin, and not Minnesota, Bardeen would have been so comfortable in Garrison Keillor's world. Bardeen seems straight out of Lake Wobegone and names like Clarence Bunsen and Florian Krebsbach kept coming to mind. Here was a loyal, moral, dedicated man, focused on his life and work, but needing few words to talk about it. Together with Brattain and Schockley (sort of), Bardeen invents the transistor, comes home to his wife, who is cooking dinner, and says to her, "we discovered something today." Wife Jane says, "that's great." After unraveling one of the greatest puzzles in all of physics, Bardeen says to Charles Slichter, "well, I think we've figured out superconductivity." Wonderful, News from Lake Wobegone stuff. (Hoddeson and Daitch's discussion of superconductivity is quite good, by the way.)
But that's the fun part. In the physics world, there are so few Bardeens. Not just in terms of intellect, but also in terms of generosity, humility, broad and inclusive vision, and overall respect and like for colleagues. I particularly liked the relationship between Bardeen and Brattain. Some physicists can only work alone, but for those who prefer collaboration, finding a partner like Brattain makes every workday fun and exciting.
Chapter 15 on Bardeen's work with charge density waves was also interesting, if dark. This chapter is an important lesson to those who believe science is the absolute collection of truths and facts. In reality, science is filled with that we do not understand and, as a result, consists of differing opinions and views, just like any other field. It was disheartening, but realistic, I feel, to read that disagreement can also include hurtful disrespect from colleagues/competitors, but Bardeen always maintained the highest levels of professionalism.
It was also disheartening to read in the acknowledgements that Betsy Bardeen Greytak had passed away. ...P>Other than physicsits, I'm not sure what audience will appreciate this book. But it will be interesting for all those, like myself, who have read, enjoyed, and mostly understood the "popular" Richard Feynman books and biographies.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Bardeen: The Gentle Giant Sept. 1 2009
By Youssef Ragab - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
John Bardeen was certainly a remarkable man on both the intellectual and human levels. Despite having to his credit such groundbreaking achievements as the invention of the transistor and the explanation of superconductivity, certainly more than most scientists can claim, he is scarcely known. The aim of this book is to shed light on the life, environment, work and persona of this gentle giant. The book starts at the root of Bardeen's ancestry, a bit of US history involved, and moves chronologically with his life. The book succeeds in drawing a portrait of Bardeen as a successful family man, athlete, colleague and of course scientist. A remarkable thing to take home from reading this book is the authors' description of Bardeen's method of tackling problems i.e. thorough investigation of previous work, breaking the problem into smaller pieces and struggling through till the end. An impressive trait of Bardeen's that is made very clear is his kind, helpful and encouraging attitude towards his students and younger colleagues. The first few chapters of the book are very engrossing, e.g. problems with Shockley, but the later chapters discussing Bardeen's industrial and government contribution were a bit boring. I found myself skipping through them. Being nonscientisits, the authors explanation of Bardeen's scientific work is not as good as it should be but it still gives the reader a feeling of the problems. All said, this is one book I definitely enjoyed and would recommend to anyone. Physicists and electronics engineers will love this book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
a brilliant and extremely interesting scientist; a disappointing book Aug. 11 2006
By lector avidus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
John Bardeen was one of nature's prodigies. After an academic career at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Princeton and Harvard he wound up at Bell Labs where he co-invented the transistor, for which he eventually received a Nobel Prize. Having to deal with a notorious egomaniac of a boss at Bell Labs, who was intent on keeping him from making further discoveries, he fled to the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, where he found a life-long sinecure, and explained superconductivity, and eventually earned another Nobel Prize. Incidentally, the authors of this book both were or are affiliated with UIUC.

The authors do a good job of describing a taciturn scientist and golfer who was much-loved and greatly respected as a person. Unfortunately, as with all biographies of prodigies, it generally is a foregone conclusion that the authors are not equal to the accomplishments of their subject. Even bearing this caveat in mind, I found the book to be a disappointment.

I understood as much of Bardeen's seminal work explaining superconductivity after reading the book as I had before, and this was not for lack of attentive reading. This cannot have been because it is inordinately complicated; Bardeen had been wary of publishing his explanation of superconductivity because it was so simple that he felt he must be missing something.

Similarly, the relevance of the transistor - the other discovery for which Dr. Bardeen won a Nobel Prize - is explained as the invention of a smaller vacuum tube which is of use in consumer electronics and hearing aids. That transistors could be, were and are, connected in such a way as to allow logical circuits, microchips and the internet to exist, doesn't get the mention it merits. On the other hand, there are ample references to the sociology of Nobel Laureates, Thomas Kuhn's theories about scientific advances, and even a 17 page epilogue or bonus material concerning theories about how prodigies come to be. On top all this, the dye used to color the hardcover version of this book rubbed off onto my fingertips.

I enjoyed reading parts of this book, and hope that eventually other authors will write a more complete and informative book about a most interesting scientist.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Exquisite Biography June 27 2012
By William D. Hunt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a University of Illinois ECE alum who had the pleasure of a few lunches with John Bardeen while I was there....so I am probably not without my bias. That said...this is an incredibly well done book. Every aspect is well researched...references support every assertion and there is no speculation. This is in this respect very much unlike the Broken Genius by Joel N. Shurkin, a biography of William Shockley.

Everything comes to life here...the excitement of the creation of the point contact transistor, the fury of the development of BCS theory. I had absolutely no doubt going into this book that John Bardeen was infinitely smarter than me...what was depressing was that he was also a much better human than me in every way...a better golfer, better father, more humble...His only flaw seems to be that his wife, Jane, wishes he had spent more time with her and perhaps slightly less passionate about physics. He even died the way I would like to die...suddenly at an advanced age.

The authors mention that the BCS theory paper, which was the basis of his second Nobel Prize, is a masterpiece of modern physics. This prompted me to read that paper and I must agree...every property related to superconductivity was calculated. Were the paper done today by an untenured assistant professor, I would advise them to break it into 5 papers...for good reasons...it is all here.

I thank the authors for taking such care with such an important figure of history.

p.s. with regard to the suspected U of I bias of the authors, I would say this...WILLIAM SHOCKLEY, BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE INVENTION OF THE TRANSISTOR!


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