Kemper's Reviews > The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo
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Mar 07, 10

bookshelves: biography, blinded-me-with-science, non-fiction

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 barely scrape out a passing grade in college algebra. Yet I’m intrigued by black holes, string theory, the big bang, the theory of relativity, etc. So when I read a book like this, even though the author does a pretty good job of trying to put Dirac’s work into layman’s terms, I can usually still feel the breeze in my hair as the ideas shoot right over my head.

I can tell you that Albert Einstein once admitted to a colleague that he was having problems following some of Dirac’s equations, and that Stephen Hawking called him the greatest English physicist since Isaac Newton. A text book that Dirac wrote in 1930 on quantum mechanics is still in print and used today. So even a dunce like me can tell that Dirac must have been something special.

He was also a grade-A nerdlinger. Even the other physicists considered him an odd duck. Aloof, quiet and extremely averse to seeking attention, his peers made a game out of trying to get more than one-word answers out of him and usually failed. His idea of a good time was taking a long walk. When a layman asked him what caused the big bang, Dirac replied that it was a meaningless question and refused to speak any further on the subject. He wasn’t exactly a social butterfly.

The author believes that Dirac may have been somewhat autistic, and I guess it’s possible, but I’m a little leery of this new trend to classify every genius as autistic lately. But Dirac was such a private person that there was little personal insight for the author to draw on other than some interviews he did late in his life. So even after reading an entire book about him, I don’t feel like I know any more about him that I could have gotten from Wikipedia.

If you’ve got a flair for theoretical physics or are a huge fan of stories about eccentric geniuses, then there’s a lot to like here, but it’s not a casual read.
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message 1: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Is the full title The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, the man who predicted the existence of anti-matter, one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, and may have been autistic?


Kemper Dan wrote: "Is the full title The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, the man who predicted the existence of anti-matter, one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, and may have..."

Actually I think it's The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, the Man Who Predicted the Existence of Anti-matter, One of the Discoverers of Quantum Mechanics, and Who May Have Been Autistic? In Fact, He Was Very Much Like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory And We Hope That By Comparing Him to a Popular TV Character in this Subtitle That You'll Buy This Book."


message 3: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "Is the full title The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, the man who predicted the existence of anti-matter, one of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, ..."

With a title like this, I'd be a fool not to buy it.


Kemper Dan wrote: "Kemper wrote: "Dan wrote: "Is the full title The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, the man who predicted the existence of anti-matter, one of the discoverers of quan..."

I think a publisher should hire us to come up with titles for their books. We're obviously marketing genuises.


Janis Me too!


Kemper J. wrote: "Me too!"

I can't believe no one has hired us yet.


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