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Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  165 ratings  ·  16 reviews
With a New Afterword

"Our knowledge of fundamental physics contains not one fruitful idea that does not carry the name of Murray Gell-Mann."--Richard Feynman

Acclaimed science writer George Johnson brings his formidable reporting skills to the first biography of Nobel Prize-winner Murray Gell-Mann, the brilliant, irascible man who revolutionized modern particle physics with
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 17th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1999)
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Dave Peticolas
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a strange species is the particle physicist. Generally brilliant (pretty much a requirement to work in the field at all), they also seem to get big helpings of eccentricity, bluntness, and arrogance. Combine that with the intense competitiveness of the field along with the general weirdness that is modern particle theory and you get one of the more unique sub-cultures of our time. The author does an excellent job of portraying not just Gell-Mann, the subject of this biography, but also many ...more
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Strange Beauty is a biography of the physicist Murray Gell-Mann but also the story of how particle physics, starting as an outcrop of nuclear physics and the efforts during the Manhattan project, came into fruition. I have read a few books about the early quantum revolution, but it was never really clear to me, until now, how physics goes from that into the realm groups and symmetries. Because it had no historical context for me, I always found it a rather boring subject, but now I may think mor ...more
Robert B
Aug 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Johnson’s biography of physicist Murray Gell-Mann is an excellent scientific biography that explains the science deeply enough to be understandable – one gets a good sense of the problems that Gell-Mann and others were tackling and the challenges they faced in solving these problems – but not so densely as to be unintelligible. The book is also very good in portraying science as a meandering, stumbling, inexact process with dead-ends and discoveries that were almost made and not as a clean strai ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
After hearing Gell-Mann interviewed on youtube, I became curious about him. This book is an excellent place to learn not only about Gell-Mann, but the exciting developments that he participated and about various other people involved in twentieth century physics. While Johnson explains theories as well as could be expected, it would have helped if I had a better understanding of the physics before reading this book. I was provoked by the book to start learning about the history of physics.
Mark Reynolds
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best - if not the best - biographies of a physicist by a non physicist that I have read. Often the journalist gets the big picture right, but the small details wrong, because they’re not physicists they don’t recognize when they slightly misquote, for example. But Johnson gets all the physics right. A joy to read.
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting biography of an interesting character. Never in danger of becoming hagiography, it captures Gell-Mann's natural genius and enthusiasm for everything, alongside his self-promotion, lack of focus and tendency to bear a grudge.
Possibly too much science for the complete amateur and not enough for the scientist, but that can easily be skipped over without losing the picture of the man.
Data swirls around like electrons as I read. My brain starts counting each time i see the words Quark, proton, pion, lambda, photon... 116! 327! 208! I'm a grown-up child prodigy! Those terms will become like family to you while you read about the wonderful world of physics, and some of the politics associated with it.

The book begins with a quote from Francis Bacon:

"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion."

This quote feels like a disclaimer for what is to co
Peter Flom
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio
Murray Gell-Mann won a Nobel prize in physics. He and Richard Feynman were arguably the two greatest physicists of the 2nd half of the 20th century. They were also colleagues, friends and rivals at Caltech.

Gell-Mann is also an expert on many other topics: Linguistics, anthropology, birds, complexity and more.

And he is a perfectionist, a procrastinator, a show-off; he has a need to prove that he knows more than you (and he does know more than you). He could be kind and charming to graduate studen
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
"Ha cinque cervelli, ognuno più intelligente del tuo". Così qualcuno definiva Murray Gell-Mann, gigante della fisica delle particelle pre-modello standard. E' sempre stato il primo della classe con poco sforzo, distratto da tanti interessi e capace di assorbire informazioni continuamente. Vince il Nobel a circa 40 anni, ora ne ha quasi 80. La biografia lo accompagna dalla nascita ai 70 anni, raccontando l'origine del suo blocco da scrittore e del suo terrore di sbagliare, la difficile vita in fa ...more
Katherine Collins
Many readers will know that Gell-Mann is a pioneer in complexity science and complex adaptive systems: his work provides the scientific basis for much of the other complexity-related work that we admire. We should all know about him and his work.
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent and very readable biography of the Nobel prizewinning physicist, very much in the mould of James Gleick's "Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman".
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful and compelling look at Murray Gell-Mann's life and his discovery of the "Strange Beauty" of the quark.
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Strange Beauty is Interesting portrait of a very complex man. His impact on the world of physics was huge.
Stephie Williams
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very interesting portrait of Murray Gell-Mann. I lerant a lot of things about the science he studied and how he related to his world.
Brendan  McAuliffe
Sep 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Very helpful, filled in a lot of blanks. ( Doesn't ignore any of the science )
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George Johnson (born January 20, 1952) is an American journalist and science writer. He is the author of a number of books, including The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments (2008) and Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics (1999), and writes for a number of publications, including

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