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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom
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The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  2,242 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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 containe ...more
Published December 9th 2009 by (first published January 1st 2009)
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What a fantastic book I have just finished!

I always find biographies very interesting and stimulating, specially those regarding the lives of scientists. In this case, it was a biography not only of the life of the brilliant mind of Paul Dirac but also a complete story of the rise and golden age of quantum mechanics along with Heisenberg, Jordan, Pauli, Schrodinger and Born.

Dirac, the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel for his legacy to this field was an eccentric man, famous for not un
Paul Dirac won a Nobel prize for physics. He was one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. Among other things, he predicted the existence of antimatter, discovered the magnetic monopole solutions and his work was used as some of the basis for string theory.

What does all that mean? Other than the fact that Dirac was one smart motherf----r, I couldn’t tell you. Because it’s my curse to be fascinated by theoretical physics despite being so math challenged that I could ba
Bryan Higgs
I enjoyed this book even more than I had expected to. Some background: I studied Physics up to the Ph.D. level (experimental elementary particle physics), and then left the field to pursue a career in computing. However, I retained an interest in Physics which became reactivated when I retired. As a physics student, my hero was Richard Feynman (I highly recommend "Genius", James Gleick's biography of Feynman) who was a very colorful character indeed.

However, being British, I was naturally incli
This biography provides vivid insights not only into the life and personality of the Nobel-prize co-winner P.A.M. Dirac, an intriguing 'hybrid' of an electrical engineer, pure mathematician and physicist, but also into the historic background of the era and the competitive atmosphere of the academic centres of the times (Cambridge, Göttingen, Copenhagen, Princeton). After reading Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality, I was interested to find out why Dirac seem ...more
The Strangest Man: the hidden life of Paul Dirac, mystic of the atom Graham Farmelo -- a recent biography of one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, brilliant mathematical thinker and borderline-autistic recluse. He was there, and part of the conversation, at the time when Bohr and Einstein debated the philosophy of quantum mechanics and the math that underlies it - a case study in Davies book [Why Beliefs Matter]. Dirac was absolutely driven by belief. He had internalized a world view ...more
Here is a grand, categorical statement for you: The quantum mechanics revolution of the early 20th century is the greatest achievement of the human mind to date.

I will admit to some bias here, since I'm a physicist. But really, think about it. Over the span of something like 50 years, a group of very smart human beings figured out some fundamental, non-obvious truths about how the universe works. Energy quantization? The probabilistic behavior of subatomic particles? The Heisenberg Uncertainty
Medet Can  Akkuş
"konuşma kapasitesine sahip bir insanın kendini ifade edebileceği en az kelime sayısına 1 dirac denir"

"If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowa
Angus Mcfarlane
Paul Dirac was probably the most fruitful quantum physicist involved in the revolution of Born, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli etc., yet I barely recognised his name, let alone his achievements, before reading this. The title is certainly appropriate if unfortunate. Dirac was very peculiar in his deliberate withdrawn ness, becoming a little less so as he aged, and it seems that this was also related to his academic brilliance, whether through an underlying autism or extreme single minded ness. A ...more
This biography is a well constructed and complete narration of one of the greatest physicists to ever live. Paul Dirac is a perfect example of being just the right man for the job at just the right time in history. He was raised in an academic household by a hard taskmaster of a father who required nearly endless study for his children and stifled all social interactions. Though Dirac had said that the only person he ever truly "loathed" was his father, the tortuous upbringing caused him to be t ...more
Francis Kayiwa
Graham Farmelo writes a book on Paul Dirac who is arguably the greatest Mathematician? Physicist? the 20th century produced. In the book we learn about a boy who learned how to speak German (which he gave up speaking because of WWII), French (which he gave up speaking because of his upbringing) and Russian. He is also famous for lengthy and uncomfortable silences despite his fluency in multiple languages. We get to know how this boy went on to explain his insightful perspective on the universe w ...more
This book isn’t about Michael Jackson! Instead, it is a biography of Paul Dirac, a British born physicist, who didn’t seem overly strange to me. He may not have been socially normal as far as “normal” is depicted in society. Farmelo ties to define Dirac’s personality from childhood abuse when his father made him talk French during their dinner conversations. Farmelo, a physicist, is good in reporting on Dirac’s life, and about his contributions to atomic theory (which weren’t as sexy as Einstei ...more
I would never have thought a biography of a physicist could be a page-turner. I was wrong. Dirac had a very interesting life, and Farmelo tells his story well.

If you want to learn the details of Dirac's work, this is not the book for you. His ideas are presented in very general terms, without any scary equations. But even if you never studied physics, I think you will end up with an understanding of how Dirac's work fits into the advances made during the 20th century.
A lengthy biography of an interesting man. The author offers infrequent but insightful opinion. A very good book on the history of science.
Paul Dirac is part of a cadre of theoreticians for whom I have immense respect and admiration despite knowing nothing of the meat of their work. I can follow a Feynmann diagram but the Dirac is almost always beyond me. Dirac's mental faculties exceed mine probably by orders of magnitude and his ability to wield mathematics is vast and humbling.

Graham Farmelo had quite a task for himself and he some-what met it. I found Paul Dirac fascinating from the start and generally love even mediocre scienc
Jose Angel
Si alguien me preguntara cuál es el libro que mejor explica la gran aventura científica que significó el desarrollo de la Mecánica Cuántica, mi respuesta sería esta vez vez independiente del nivel de conocimientos técnicos del interlocutor: “The Strangest Man. The Hidden life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom”, de Graham Farmelo.

Y es que el lector que posea conocimientos avanzados en Física, no se verá defraudado por simplificaciones y errores de concepto; el autor, escritor y profesor de Física
I've read very few biographies. I could swear I've now read three, but the only other one I can think of is the 'autobiography' of the former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson, which I read when I was about twelve. Nevertheless, even with that lack of experience I am confident in saying that The Strangest Man is an excellent one. Dirac was not the most forthcoming individual, and yet Farmelo manages to paint a convincing portrait that seems fully-fleshed, which makes you think of Dirac as a friend, ...more
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 extremel
An exceptionally well-written biography of one of the greatest physicists, Paul Dirac, one of the creators of quantum mechanics. It's a rare combination of a page-turner and a book written with the English reserve.

Besides the history of an important part of physics, and its historical background (including the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, WWII and later - Cold War) one can clearly see that science is not a dry product, polished from its very beginning. It's a process, created by various people,
Mohammed A
The book is well written and presented! Not to mention that it is inspiring and informative. I like how Dirac had a unique (kind of eccentric) personality, yet he was a great physicist. He was popular for his short and precise answers. One of the many stories that I like is the one that occurred after he presented a lecture at a conference. One colleague raised his hand and said: I don't understand that equation. After a long silence, the moderator asked Dirac if he wanted to answer the question ...more
A wonderfully written biography of a fascinating, odd, brilliant and pioneering theoretical physicist. The title of the book is perhaps not the best, certainly from the perspective of the portrait painted by Graham Farmelo, as he consistently places Dirac in the position he should enjoy; a major force during the infancy of quantum physics, whose insights and 'tools' are still relevant and in use today. This book can be enjoyed by all. It is not a book FOR physicists, rather a book about a physic ...more
Jennifer Brickner
I decided to read this biography on my Kindle because he lived in Tallahassee (pictured in the book) in my town. I like to read books about those gifted in Physics like my son. I have to say that I stayed up late reading this book and was really swept away. I bought the paperback for my son to read and take to college. We went to see his marble statue at FSU at the Paul Dirac Science library (next to the Physics building) and went up to the fourth floor and saw pictures of his Nobel prize and ot ...more
Jean Poulos
This is one of the best books in terms of detail and insight into the brilliant character of Paul Dirac 1902-1984. Graham Farmelo, a British Physicist, has obviously done in-depth research, and I understand he had access to many of Dirac’s personal papers. The book won the 2009 Costa book award. The book is less a scientific biography than other books on Dirac, it emphasizes more the development of Dirac’s personality and the story of his relationship with his relations and colleagues. I learned ...more
"I don't see how you can work on physics and write poetry at the same time...In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand." Paul Dirac
James Watson
This is an assiduously researched biography of a scientist who made important contributions to physics but whose name is barely known outside that field. As expected, the book sings high praises for Dirac's triumphs and accomplishments. Less expected, but no less important, is a detailed catalog of Paul Dirac's mistakes and shortcomings. In spite of all his prowess in physics, he dismissed later important developments in physics out of hand. While reading this book, one speculates if Dirac had t ...more
Ted Nield
Bristol-born Nobel prizewinner Paul Dirac, 'the greatest Lucasian Professor of Mathematics since Newton' is not promising biography material. Unbelievably taciturn, repressed and unrevealing (except in very rare, apparently four-hour long outpourings of probably skewed reminiscences to certain favoured close friends), he was also a pioneer of quantum mechanics (and much more besides) that is almost impossibly abstruse. The triumph of Farmelo's book is that he manages to make a compelling narrati ...more
As the title suggests, Dirac was no ordinary person. He was certainly a first-rate scientist; the Dirac equation is part of the foundation of modern quantum mechanics. His notional devices (the 'bra-ket' and the Dirac delta) are now part of the core language of physics. He was very much an eccentric professor and was infamously shy and awkward socially. "Dirac stories" apparently were a circulating currency in the gossip market of physics in the first half of the century. Dirac was also dogmatic ...more
Blair Dowden
I choose to read the biographies of the pioneers of modern physics as one of the pathways to understanding these most amazing ideas of all time. Explaining the science is not one of the strengths of this book. There is little effort to explain the fundamentals to the reader before we get to the ideas of Dirac himself. Then we get a mixture of oversimplification and taking for granted the reader understands certain complex constructs. However, if you already know a lot of this, the book is useful ...more
I took my time with this book, reading just a chapter or two a day, sometimes taking a few days off in between. I think that if I had tried to read it straight through, I'd have gotten bored. It isn't gripping to me in a way that would allow me to plow through 430 pages in a hurry. However, in smaller portions, it was quite pleasant and interesting. I had never heard of Paul Dirac before, and I don't know very much about theoretical physics, quantum physics, or even relativity. Farmelo does a ve ...more
Even for a physicist, Paul Dirac was an exceedingly eccentric man. Socially aloof, he didn’t even get along with his fellow physicists, men who spoke Dirac’s own language. Unlike the other heavyweights of theoretical physics—his colleagues included Heisenberg, Pauli, Bohr, and Schrodinger—Dirac eschewed publicity, preferring to work in isolation, publishing infrequently. After making a few important contributions to quantum physics and then winning the 1933 Nobel Prize, Dirac dropped out of the ...more
Nick Gotch
Without a doubt Paul Dirac is one of the lesser-known legends of modern physics, probably deserving a spot beside or just beneath Einstein himself. "The Strangest Man" goes through Paul's entire life, helping the reader to get some insight into the way his mind worked. He may have been autistic, we won't ever know for sure, but he thought so linearly, so elegantly, one can't help but be amazed.

Paul's contributions to science form the foundations for much of our computer technology and nanoscienc
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Graham Farmelo is a senior research fellow at the Science Museum, London and associate professor of physics at Northeastern University, US.
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“During the meeting in Delhi with Dirac on 12 January 1955, Nehru asked him if he had any recommendations for the future of the new republic of India. After his usual reflective pause, Dirac replied: ‘A common language, preferably English. Peace with Pakistan. The metric system.” 1 likes
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