Thursday, March 22, 2007

Book Review: Physics and Beyond  

(Apologies for the repost ... testing out Blogger 2.0's new Labels feature)
Physics and Beyond by Werner Heisenberg
An amazingly human book about physics. In deeply personal terms, Heisenberg tells how he grew from a war-tossed youth to an elder statesman of physics. His thesis is that physics is more than just experiments, numbers and math; instead, it is a deeply social process of discussion among physicists trying to understand the world experiment reveals around them. He weaves an idyllic picture of the interchange among the physicists of his generation, portraying the quantum mechanics as emerging not from dry scientific discussions but from vigorous literary, philosophical and religious interchanges, shared excitement and brassy poker games, and invigorating hiking, mountain climing and sailing adventures. Heisenberg carefully picks out key conversations during his life that ultimately led to the Uncertainty Principle that bears his name, interwoven with key turns of events that illuminate the slow disintegration of Germany leading up to World War II. We watch the idealistic, musical Youth Movement of his childhood degenerate into an edgy conversation with a Hitler Youth member who overhears Heisenberg playing. We see his despair as he is conscripted into the atomic bomb program and tries to steer it towards nuclear piles, rather than nuclear bombs. And we follow him through harrowing bike rides through the lines, the rescue of an old man from a burning house, the shock of an avalanche and an encounter with an unexpectedly friendly American bear.

Truly an amazing book.

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