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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul…
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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom (original: 2009; edição: 2009)

de Graham Farmelo

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8012520,687 (4.07)19
Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, one of Einstein's most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Based on previously undiscovered archives, this biography reveals the many facets of Dirac's brilliantly original mind as well as the spectacularly exciting era of scientific discovery in which he lived.… (mais)
Membro:pilarflores
Título:The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom
Autores:Graham Farmelo
Informação:Basic Books (2009), Hardcover, 560 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
Avaliação:***
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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom de Graham Farmelo (2009)

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Mostrando 1-5 de 25 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
Excellent biography. Recommended for anyone interested in quantum mechanics. No special knowledge of science is required. The author presents a good sense of the personality of Dirac, remarkable because Dirac usually spoke little. You get also introductions to other quantum physicists: Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Born, Bohr, de Broglie, Fermi, Feynman, Jordan, Oppenheimer, Pauli, Rutherford, Bose and others. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
Thoroughly done about a difficult subject ( )
  jamespurcell | Oct 10, 2020 |
The number of "if"s, "may"s, "probably"s and "likely"s in this book is alarming; the author speculates with a frequency that in the end (actually less than half way through, for me) undermines this detailed, comprehensive biography of one of the most influential and under-appreciated humans of all history. Biography is surely supposed to be factual. Forever filling in gaps with one's own guesses as to the subject's thoughts, actions and words is not helpful, it's misleading. This flaw really damages what could have been a definitive biography.

Since Dirac is not at all famous outside the physics community, I will mention why I think this is a travesty and redress the problem to a tiny extent: Your life has been root-and-branch influenced by Dirac's work. Yes, he was a Professor of theoretical physics working in a notoriously abstract, abstruse and just plain difficult field (quantum mechanics) that you may feel has nothing to do with your daily life - but you would be wrong if you think that. I know this because you simply would not be reading this without humanity having grasped the theory of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics underpins all of solid-state electronics - everything that makes modern computers, phones and the world wide web function would not be possible without it. You would not be reading this without the understanding of the world Dirac made such enormous contributions to. Heard of anti-matter? Dirac predicted its existence. Dirac's work underlies all our fundamental theories of how matter behaves; "particle physics", "the Standard Model", "Quantum Field Theory", whatever labels you might have heard it given, it is extra-ordinary the extent to which our current approaches to it relies on the work of Dirac. Quantum Mechanics has had more effect on modern society than any physical theory since the classical electromagnetism of the 19th Century that allowed for the distribution of power and lighting by electricity. Dirac has had more practical influence than any other 20th Century scientist - in my view he beats Einstein by a distance in this regard, despite Einstein's own contributions to the quantum revolution and the ever increasing importance of General Relativity to our daily lives. (Your car satnav couldn't work without GR).

Having mentioned Einstein leads me to why I'm reading about Dirac: if you've been paying attention to my reviews of late you will have noticed that I am retrospectively trying to determine whether Darwin, Einstein and Dirac were autistic, in preparation for a talk I am giving in July about the influence of autism on science and society. I concluded that both Darwin and Einstein had some form of autism. I have also concluded that Dirac was autistic. The evidence is overwhelming, even stronger than is the case for Einstein, which I found very compelling. The evidence in Darwin's case is weaker, but for me ultimately convincing. Now consider the impact those three people have had on the contemporary educated person's life, society and world-view. That's what autism has done.

Farmelo devotes a chapter towards the end of this book to the theory that Dirac was autistic. I caution readers about this chapter. It is heavily influenced by the views of two people who have each contributed to hugely inaccurate public misconceptions of what autism is and how autistic people think: Simon Baron Cohen and Temple Grandin.

Taking Baron Cohen first: he not only perpetuates the utterly false notion that autistic people lack empathy but whilst doing so re-enforces negative stereotypes about sex and gender using arguments and deceptions that don't so much break scientific ethics as atomise them. Temple Grandin, herself autistic, has repeatedly made the mistake of assuming that all autistic minds work in exactly the same way. Most famously, she assumed that, because she is a visual thinker, all autistic people must be visual thinkers and that this is a distinguishing feature, separating neurotypicals from autistic folk. When a tsunami of evidence that, to the contrary, not all autistic people think that way and a lot of neurotypical people do think visually crashed down upon her, she graciously accepted her error - but the misconception persists in the public mind and she's made similar errors about autistic thinking based on exactly the same false principle that if she's autistic and thinks in a particular way, all autistic people must do so.

Farmelo's chapter also perpetuates the notion that autistic people are emotionless; nothing could be further from the truth. The consensus view is that a fundamental aspect of autism is the inability to regulate emotion. This explains, for example, the tendency for autistic people to have "meltdowns" which are clearly an expression of extreme emotion.

Overall, then, this thoroughly researched biography is flawed by a lack of truly rigorous honesty, without actually outright falsifying anything, and a foray into psychological theory which is superficial and perpetuates numerous fallacious negative stereotypes about autism. This is a great shame because Dirac and the reading public deserve better. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
The Strangest Man: the Hidden Life of Paul Dirac is a biography of Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, the brilliant theoretical physicist that deduced the existence of antimatter through equations alone. With his early personal life, it was overshadowed by his domineering father, Charles Dirac, a teacher of foreign languages. He forced his children to speak to him only in French during supper and did other things that contributed to Charles being called a bully. His mother, Florence, was stifling and too affectionate in Paul’s eyes. Paul Dirac was a prodigy through and through but did not possess much tact. For this, his brother resented him, especially since Paul was younger than he was. Along with not having much tact, Paul Dirac was sorely lacking in other social skills. A superb mathematical student, he quickly overtook his classmates in everything mathematical. His teacher even sent him to the Library to study alone, and study he did. With a voracious appetite for mathematical works, he heard about Einstein from a news article from Friday, November 7, 1919. This was the day that relativity burst onto the world stage, with Einstein’s face being in every newspaper and many other sources.

From that day on, he attempted to learn everything he could about the theory of relativity and its mathematical basis. Unfortunately, no one where he lived had heard anything about it, and that early on most of the accounts of relativity were contradictory, incomplete or had other flaws. For instance, the Atomic Model produced by Niels Bohr had a number of issues with it. The equation only worked with single Hydrogen Atoms in certain situations. Meanwhile, Dirac had problems with his personal life. His brother committed suicide and Paul Dirac was struggling to make ends meet. After he was sent a paper by Heisenberg, Dirac discovered how far behind he was in Quantum Theory.

After making some initial assumptions, Dirac decided that to make the theory work it had to be relativistic; that is, it had to make predictions consistent with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Dirac was in a unique position to accomplish this. He was trained as an engineer, he had the qualities of a theoretical mathematician, and he had skills in mathematical physics. While he did accomplish this task, at the time it was mocked because it went against observation and common sense. Dirac claimed that the proton was a hole in a negative-energy sea of electrons. His colleagues had misgivings about this though since the particle in question would last a billionth of a second, say, and no matter would exist. However, Dirac was certain of his theory and decided that it pointed to an undiscovered particle that he dubbed the anti-electron.

Throughout his work on Physics, the World moved on. Paul Dirac lived through a very trying time. World War I happened while he was a young man, the Jazz Age passed him by without him noticing, and while he was working on his most influential papers he saw the rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Communists in Russia. Along with that was a little event known as the Great Depression.

In the early 1930s, it finally came to pass that someone observed the anti-electron but they didn’t realize what they had discovered. Since scientists were wary of Dirac’s theory, many of them chose to mock it or deny it rather than check to see if it made sense or confirm it experimentally.

The saddest part of Dirac’s life is the fact that he himself considered it a failure despite his achievements. I suppose his long life had eroded his earlier confidence in his abilities. Although his biggest claim to fame was the Dirac Equation and his prediction of the positron, Dirac also came up with the idea of the magnetic monopole. Although he seemed like an automaton to many people, he had a fondness for Disney cartoons and music by Cher.

In closing, this book was very entertaining and really made an effort to humanize Dirac and bring him down to Earth. It didn’t show much mathematics, but this book did do a good job of explaining the equations that figure into the story. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
It wasn't until very near the end of this book that I finally identified the niggling something that had seemed strange throughout it. Most biographies are driven by emotional narrative. To put it in Myers-Briggs terms, they're F books. This book is clearly at T. But what could be more appropriate for the biography of a man so emotionally reserved that many who knew him later speculated that he might have been autistic?

Unverified psychological speculation aside, The Strangest Man is the extremely well researched story of the life of Paul Dirac, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and arguably one of the most brilliant physicists of all time. His major contributions to science were made during a fascinating period in the world of physics, as well as in the world at large. Dirac's life is entwined with many of the legends of modern physics, all of whom were caught up to some degree in the rise of Hitler, WWII, and the Cold War.

While the book seems to sag a little at the end, as Dirac approaches retirement and then moves with his wife to Florida, it is otherwise a fascinating glimpse into the birth of quantum mechanics, through the life of a man who was at once one of the pillars of the community and yet still an outsider. By all rights, the name Dirac should ring with equal weight to names like Einstein and Newton. This book illustrates both why that is and why it didn't happen.

Recommended to those interested in modern physics and/or the lives of brilliant outsiders. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 25 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
This biography is a gift. It is both wonderfully written (certainly not a given in the category Accessible Biographies of Mathematical Physicists) and a thought-provoking meditation on human achievement, limitations and the relations between the two
adicionado por jlelliott | editarThe New York Times, Louisa Gilder (Sep 8, 2009)
 

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Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, one of Einstein's most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics. Based on previously undiscovered archives, this biography reveals the many facets of Dirac's brilliantly original mind as well as the spectacularly exciting era of scientific discovery in which he lived.

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