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Graham Farmelo

The Strangest Man

Paul Dirac was the archetypal introverted scientist, well known for his monosyllablic replies to questions. In The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius Graham Farmelo tells his story.

I did find the first few chapters of the book, on Dirac's early life, rather hard going, and I began to wonder whether there was going to be enough of interest to say about Dirac to fill a 500 page book. Fortunately there was. As Dirac climbed the academic ladder his genius became obvious, and he was soon working at the forefront of theoretical quantum theory. Farmelo deals well with this aspect of Dirac's life, giving a description of the work he was doing without going into the highly mathematical details. We hear how the Dirac equation predicted the existence of antimatter, but there was a tendency to think that this was just an artifact of the mathematics.

You might think that Dirac spent every waking hour in his study, but in fact he went along with the idea that four hours a day was about as much time anyone could spend on such advanced mathematics, and he had plenty of time for other interests, as well as for travelling to meet his colleagues.

Dirac didn't seem the marrying type but he did marry and raise a family. As he grew older he began to lose touch with the forefront of quantum theory - although he did work on a forerunner of String Theory. I felt that the way that Dirac's ideas fitted in to the rest of physics is an important part of the book - it's worth reading for this glimpse into the development of 20th century physics, as well as to find out about the life of this unique character. info
Hardcover 544 pages  
ISBN: 0571222781
Salesrank: 1089410
Published: 2009 Faber & Faber
Marketplace:New from $56.90:Used from $6.25
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Hardcover 560 pages  
ISBN: 0571222781
Salesrank: 646529
Weight:1.94 lbs
Published: 2009 Faber and Faber
Marketplace:New from £198.00:Used from £0.72
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Hardcover 496 pages  
ISBN: 0571222781
Salesrank: 3018084
Weight:1.94 lbs
Published: 2009 Faber And Faber Ltd.
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 102.67:Used from CDN$ 5.13
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Product Description
Paul Dirac was one of the leading pioneers of the greatest revolution in 20th-century science: quantum mechanics. One of the youngest theoreticians ever to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, he was also pathologically reticent, strangely literal-minded and legendarily unable to communicate or empathize. Through his greatest period of productivity, his postcards home contained only remarks about the weather. Based on a previously undiscovered archive of family papers, Graham Farmelo celebrates Dirac's massive scientific achievement while drawing a compassionate portrait of his life and work. Farmelo shows a man who, while hopelessly socially inept, could manage to love and sustain close friendship. 'The Strangest Man' is an extraordinary and moving human story, as well as a study of one of the most exciting times in scientific history.