Cranks, Quarks and the Cosmos

Cranks, Quarks and the Cosmos : Writings on Science

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Description

Asking "How can we be sure that Albert Einstein was not a crank?", this book looks at the history of science from a general perspective. It includes an autobiographical account of how the author became science writer for the "New Yorker", and a series of profiles of famous scientists from Einstein, Neils Bohr and Alan Turing to Primo Levi, Edwin Land and Sophia Kovalevsky.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 230 pages
  • 120 x 190mm | 199g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0192880438
  • 9780192880437

Table of contents

Introduction - the scientific profile; how can we be sure that Albert Einstein was not a crank?'; Ernst Mach and the quarks; Niels Bohr's times; feet of clay; three degrees above zero; cosmology; a portrait of Alan Turing; I am a camera; Einstein when young; the merely personal; the chemistry of Primo Levi; a child's garden of science; having fun with Tom Lehrer; a woman's place; who was Christy Mathewson?; science education for the non-scientist; epilogue - some things I did not write.show more

Review Text

For a change, not just a miscellany of previously published pieces but essays - including two originals - with a couple of underlying themes. Generally, these pieces concern my-life-and-thoughts-about-writing, as well as insights into particular writers, editors, and scientists whom Bernstein (The Life It Brings, 1987, etc.) has known or studied extensively. This preeminent profiler of scientists for The New Yorker begins with a tribute to William Shawn, who meticulously dissected Bernstein's first 60-page piece. In other essays, Bernstein conveys what it is, in style and substance, that enables one to distinguish geniuses from cranks. There are admiring essays on Ernst (speed of sound) Mach, who could never be convinced of the reality of atoms; of Einstein, who could never accept quantum theory; and of Hawking, who sneers at "Theories of Everything." Finally, Bernstein makes some startling comments on science biographies and science writing. He says that he finds confessional biographies excessive - from Watson to Luria to Turing to Feynman. At the same time, he finds Einstein's letters to his lover/first-wife absorbing and revealing, and he is quite willing to discuss Schrodinger's well-known womanizing. Bernstein also says that he truly believes (at least in his own case) that you have to be a scientist to write about science - and that you must keep working at both vocations. Thus, he rejects the later writing of Primo Levi after Levi retired from chemistry. One wonders if Bernstein doesn't suffer the opposite of Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence": Far from feeling anxiety, he wants constant dipping into the scientific waters of mentors and peers. For all one may carp with the opinions and self-righteousness, there's no denying that Bernstein writes well and sometimes even in a light vein. So readers will be rewarded to learn what happened to Tom Lehrer as well as to hear about the great and the tragic. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

19 ratings
4 out of 5 stars
5 37% (7)
4 32% (6)
3 26% (5)
2 5% (1)
1 0% (0)
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