At once a superb biography and an excellent overview of twentieth century physics, the author does an outstanding job of recounting the life and times of the great theoretical physicist Paul Dirac. From Dirac's birth in 1902 to his death in 1984, the author unfolds Dirac's life from the personal, scientific, familial and social aspects. Throughout the book, he is at once objective, respectful and admiring of his subject. Each chapter covers a specific time period in Dirac's life, as indicated at the top of every page; this is often quite useful for the reader. Also, the author is quite successful in his manner of presenting the developments in twentieth century physics in sufficient clear jargon-free details such that the information is accessible to a general readership without being inaccurate. In the second last chapter, the author discusses a possible brain condition that Dirac may have had that would help explain his odd behaviour. The last chapter provides a summary of Paul Dirac's scientific legacy and the importance of his contributions to his field. The writing style is clear, friendly, authoritative, quite accessible and immensely captivating; the book is very difficult to put down. This is a tome that can be enjoyed by anyone who wants an accessible outline of the tremendous discoveries and accomplishments that were made in twentieth century physics, the brilliant people who made them, all centered on the life of one of its greatest contributors.
on February 3, 2010
PAM Dirac is, any physicist will likely confirm it, a giant of science, yet he is a famously obscure figure, if you ask the general public. His contemporaries (Heisenberg, Pauli, Oppenheimer to name but a few) are almost without exception better known. Yet, Farmelo agrees quite convincingly that Dirac's skills, his contribution to physics, is second perhaps only to Einstein. This superb biography successfully brings to life what is perhaps the most fertile period in scientific history, the first half of the twentieth century, when the foundations of our society were laid down and built upon. Hundreds, if not thousands of years of accumulated knowledge exploded into practical applications, of which we are now reaping the benefits, pretty much all in Dirac's lifetime. More than the biography of a single man, this is the story of science being made, day by day, block by block, of false starts, competing ideas, overlapping theories, a grail quest of sort, of this breathless race to understand this universe in which we live. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a good story, even fiction lovers: early twentieth century physics has an eclectic cast of fascinating characters and quite a thrilling storyline!
on January 19, 2011
In full agreement with the impressive number of positive reviews, as per above. This coming from a curious person (hence eager reader) with no scientific background. Got the book because Dirac's central role in 20th-century physics and his legendary and enigmatic personality intrigued me. Couldn't put the book down, once I started it, and it gave me great pleasure to read it.