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Variety of Men

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  23 Ratings  ·  1 Review
Paperback, 224 pages
Published July 26th 1969 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1967)
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Amit Kurien
Interesting biographical sketches of some very influential people of the last century. Snow's personal acquaintance with almost all of them combined with their own personal reflections from their diaries make for good reading. Also, comparisons and commonalities drawn between the personalities gives the book an interesting appeal.
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Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow, Kt., CBE, was an English physical chemist and novelist who also served in several important positions in the British Civil Service and briefly in the UK government. He is best known for his series of novels known collectively as Strangers and Brothers, and for The Two Cultures, a 1959 lecture in which he laments the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectual ...more
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“One day at Fenner's (the university cricket ground at Cambridge), just before the last war, G. H. Hardy and I were talking about Einstein. Hardy had met him several times, and I had recently returned from visiting him. Hardy was saying that in his lifetime there had only been two men in the world, in all the fields of human achievement, science, literature, politics, anything you like, who qualified for the Bradman class. For those not familiar with cricket, or with Hardy's personal idiom, I ought to mention that “the Bradman class” denoted the highest kind of excellence: it would include Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Newton, Archimedes, and maybe a dozen others. Well, said Hardy, there had only been two additions in his lifetime. One was Lenin and the other Einstein.” 5 likes
“Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special theory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes to authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.” 2 likes
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