Laura's Reviews > The Scientist as Rebel

The Scientist as Rebel by Freeman Dyson
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's review
May 20, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: history, terraforming, science
Recommended to Laura by: Star Trek
Read in May, 2012

I was startled recently by having three friends of mine respond with polite incomprehension to the name “Freeman Dyson.” I can’t remember not knowing who Freeman Dyson was. I may live in a world where, for one of the first times in my life my fandom is appreciated and my president is on the right side of history, but I still, apparently, live askew. I told the third one he was a “science hero.”

It also made me realize that I hadn’t actually read any books by Dyson. This may not have been the best one to start with. It’s a collection of previously published essays, some with postscripts, covering war and peace (from the perspective of a guy who did geek stuff for the RAF during WWII and a nuclear engineer who is deeply anguished about the bomb), history of science (from the perspective of a man who ran with Feynman, Von Neumann, Teller, and Oppenheimer, helped develop nuclear power plants and – why I can’t remember the first time I heard his name-- came up with the Dyson Sphere), and contemporary issues (from a guy who helped make modern history). It’s not an exploration of a big idea; it’s lots of pieces plucked out of context and put together. A good bus book, but not a deep read.

It did introduce me to the idea that we could engineer trees that could live on comets as part of a terraforming project, which is AWESOME. Also, that I live in a world where, once upon a time, the State of California could ask someone like Richard Feynman to review their high school science and math text books. Given what’s going on in textbooks these days, I felt a pang of envy.

I also came away with the feeling that Dyson as a deep streak of contrariness that we are lucky he found a non-destructive outlet for. In a weird way, he reminded me of a certain contrarian I used to work with (and perhaps will again), who once picked a week-long fight with an Englishman over the fact the UK had moved to the metric system.
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message 1: by Carlo (new)

Carlo I recently read Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman and the parts about being on the reviewing board were very interesting, and in a way, funny. And yes, I felt a pang of envy too :)

message 2: by Traveller (last edited Jun 08, 2012 01:17PM) (new)

Traveller Well, allow me to be contrarian in saying that I think the US is contrarian for not having moved on to the metric system.

So there!

Nice review, btw. :)

Laura Traveller wrote: "Well, allow me to be contrarian in saying that I think the US is contrarian for not have moved on to the metric system.

So there!

Nice review, btw. :)"

Snicker. Traveller, that particular co-worker yelled "tyranny!" at a former US Attorney General, who shortly thereafter fainted. Another co-worker had buttons made that say "we love hecklers." Another reason I love my job.


Carlo, that's a great book!

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