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4.01  ·  Rating details ·  4,536 ratings  ·  307 reviews
For most people, the principles of nuclear physics are not only incomprehensible but inhuman. The popular image of the men who made the bomb is of dispassionate intellects who number-crunched their way towards a weapon whose devastating power they could not even imagine. But in his Tony Award-winning play Copenhagen, Michael Frayn shows us that these men were passionate, p ...more
Paperback, 132 pages
Published August 8th 2000 by Anchor Books (first published 1998)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  4,536 ratings  ·  307 reviews

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Quantum Ethics

Intentions maketh the man - in love, life, and war. Well perhaps not. Who knows anyone’s genuine motives, especially one’s own. Our reasons for acting the way we do involve telling a story. Stories justify intentions as rational, beneficial, necessary, or just plain good. But whose story? All stories are arbitrary, or at least incomplete. And they’re all told after the fact. Stories require a point of view which can only be adopted after the consequences of action have emerged. So
Manuel Antão
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Theatre and Physics: "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn

Why do I go to the theatre? The question bears the same gravitas as the one regarding books. Much like books, the theatre allows me to experience something different. Not like books or movies though, the theatre often feels more real since I share the same space as the actors. While books can help me enter the world of the story, and temporarily leave my own life, being a theatre buff c
- So what did you think?

- I liked it! A lot of really interesting historical stuff about the Bohr/Heisenberg/Schrödinger triangle. And I just had no idea about Heisenberg's involvement in the Nazi nuclear project. Fascinating. Can't imagine how I missed reading about that earlier.

- Ah, come on George, surely you got more out of it than that?

- Well, okay, okay, it was technically pretty impressive too. The way he uses quantum mechanics as a sustained metaphor throughout. I didn't think he'd be a
(view spoiler)

Revisit 2015 comes from watching 'Saboteurs 2015', which is a modern telling of the Telemark/heavy water nail-biting incident.

This TV film of Frayn's play stars Daniel Craig, Francesca Anis, Stephen Rea, superbly done, and fully recommended.

201209 third reading: my father (physical chemist) died 2 March and since then i keep discovering things i would talk to him about, this play is an example. i read it yet again, want to see production sometime, and remember how generally dismissive he usually was about artistic 'takes' on complex physics/chemistry etc though i do not know if i talked to him about this play. his Alzheimer's is fairly degenerate by the time i read it and intellectual abstractions are becoming lost by then. and on ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Oct 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: read08
I wish this had come with stage directions, because it was difficult to understand some of the dialogue without knowing how they were interacting (or not) on stage. Interesting subject, first act was much better than the second, I thought the author was trying too hard to make quantum mechanics match the possibilities of what happened at Bohr's home. ...more
Laura L. Van Dam
I saw the play in 2003 in a memorable version that was presented to science students at the University of Buenos Aires, which was followed by intense debate. Also, I´ve watched the play/movie version with Stephen Rea and Daniel Craig several times since i use the movie for teaching. I read the play this week to extract quotes for further work with my students. It´s pure genius, one of the best plays i have ever seen
Sep 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-lit
What a play. As I watched it I knew I had to see it again but wouldn't be able to as the season was booked out. As it was, the night we went our seats were on the stage. A peculiar experience.

Still, it meant I bought the book the next day. Gleefully grabbed by one of the people I went with before I could blink, so I hope that gives you an idea of how dense and yet magnetic this play is.

Milica Chotra
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you're interested in history of science and WW2, especially physics and atomic bomb, I can't recommend it highly enough. Of course, this is a work of fiction and Frayn knows nothing about quantum mechanics, but still... it's interesting, informative and cleverly written.

Why did Heisenberg go to Copenhagen in 1941?

The Idea. "The idea for Copenhagen came to me out of my interest in philosophy. It was when I read a remarkable book
Aj Sterkel
Nov 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: play
Likes: I don’t read many stage plays because watching them is always more fun than reading them, but I thought I’d give Copenhagen a shot. It has amazing reviews and has been nominated for many, many awards. What could go wrong?

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the play. It’s based on a real meeting that occurred in 1941 between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. They were both working on secret government weapons projects, and they found themselves working for opposite alliances duri
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
Copenhagen explores the "secret" meeting that took place between Heisenberg and Neils Bohr, two Nobel laureates, discussing atom bombs. This incident took place in 1941 and history asserts this specific meeting. Frayn provides a fictional account of this meeting.

Heisenberg, once Bohr's protege, remains with Germany during World War II. This puts him and Bohr on the opposite sides of the war. With scientific minds scattered across Europe and the United States, scientific and technological progres
Uttara Srinivasan
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Almost 4.5 stars

At one point in the play Bohr says to Heisenberg- and I paraphrase - don't assume that because my country is a smaller piece of land compared to yours, that i don't feel the same sense of patriotism to it that you do. To this Heisenberg replies later in the same conversation - don't assume my need to defend my country is any weaker just because I know it is in the wrong.

This is the essence of the conflict that two eminent scientists with giant leap contributions to modern physic
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
Drama on 3:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Greta Scacchi and Simon Russell Beale star in Michael Frayn's award-winning play about the controversial 1941 meeting between physicists Bohr and Heisenberg, part of a joint Radio 3 and Radio 4 series of three Michael Frayn dramas for radio - including new adaptations of his novels, 'Skios' and 'Headlong'.

Being a physicist myself, this dialog between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg was widely discussed during my graduation studies.

For further information, please
Gumble's Yard
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
Excellent and thought provoking play about the meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg during the war – the slightly pretentious commentary doesn’t add much but does place the play in the context of the themes Frayn pursues in his wider work especially about the impossibility of understanding one’s own motivations let alone another’s and how a novel rather than play can imply greater comprehension than possible; and while Frayn’s own postscript gives too much of the latest analysis by historians of ...more
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
You live and breathe paradox and contradiction, but you can no more see the beauty of them than the fish can see the beauty of the water

It was provocative to read this when midway through S3 of True Detective. Both entities plumb the nebulous foundation of memory. Both resound with a perhaps amateur understanding of the Uncertainty Principle. (Frayn explores the translation of term in his lengthy afterward) Alas, Copenhagen features physicists Bohr and Heisenberg and the artistry of this represe
Mitchell Hahn-Branson
In 1941, German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a clandestine trip to have dinner with his friend, Danish physicist Niels Bohr, and his wife, Margrethe. They were two of the absolute best scientists in their field—this was the same Heisenberg who had formulated the Uncertainty Principle—and they had challenged each other to do some of their very best work. But Heisenberg was a patriotic German who was now working, probably with some reluctance, under the Nazis; Bohr, who was half-Jewish, would ...more
Sep 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: tony
There are plenty of living room dramas in the world, so I certainly can't begrudge this play being something entirely different / but that also doesn't change the fact that 70% of this play felt like attending a quantum mechanics lecture. I couldn't help but picture Frayn poring over physics books and quantum theory papers, which is not something I really want to imagine when I'm reading/viewing a play. I actually actively hate when I can see a playwright in the writing of play, however unfair t ...more
Connie Kuntz
Feb 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
For Valentine's Day, Jesse gave me an uninterrupted hour to read Copenhagen and write the review. I'm running out of time, so this will be quick, which, coincidentally, is one of the major themes of the play. Anyway, here goes:

Copenhagen is a delightful play about physics. It is fun to think about and gratifying to imagine. I'm confident it would be an honor to stage this play and I am confident I would be thrilled to serve as the dramaturg on such a production. All that said, I (for once) have
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An impressively compact play that details a whole bunch of things, including:
- a strange meeting between Niels Bohr & Werner Heisenberg in 1941
- the development of quantum physics leading up to World War II
- the atomic bomb projects, or lack thereof, in the Allies vs. Germany
- Heisenberg's uncertainty principle & its relationship to his personal life
- the fallibility of memory
- the limits of interpretation
- the darkness of human psychology; the defense mechanisms we put in place
- questions of mo
Paul Ataua
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have been listening to few old plays this weekend and this one really touched me. It’s the story of German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s visit to Danish physicist Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941. The two had worked on quantum mechanics and revolutionized atomic physics in the past, but now the world had changed and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war and Denmark was under German occupation. The story focuses on physics and the atomic bomb, but most of all on relationships and et ...more
Gabrielle Grosbety
Jun 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The mentalities of the characters in Copenhagen are based on the idea of the nuclear family, the importance of interpersonal relationships, and space of the home as a safe, secure sphere to interact within. This longing for security becomes contradictory to the underlying, inevitable uncertainty society impresses upon individuals in Copenhagen, which comes to exist at the core of everything Copenhagen’s characters do, manifesting itself in their intentions, morals, and loyalties, and ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
May 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theatre, science
Heisenbergs line sums this the essence of the work up brilliantly:

Complementarity, once again. I'm your enemy; I'm also your friend. I'm a danger to mankind; I'm also your guest. I'm a particle; I'm also a wave. We have one set of obligations to the world in general, and we have other sets, never to be reconciled to our fellow countrymen... All we can do is to look afterwards, and see what happened.

This is I feel the premise and emotion garnered from this work. I do not know if personally I wou
Jan 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm kind of fascinated by the history of science, in particular by the lives of the various actors involved. You know, those whose significance in the grand scheme of things (as far as most are concerned) is exclusively defined by the work they have done. They were brilliant minds, lofty and untouchable to the likes of me. But above all they were human, with all the requisite failings and ambiguities, and when considered as such they become so much more fascinating -- which is why I picked up Co ...more
John A Raju
A brilliant five star read that I happened to stumble upon. I hadn't known that there was a Neils Bohr- Heisenberg meeting in Copenhagen in 1942, the minutiae of which is still under speculation. The two had a father-son relationship before German tanks took over Bohrs' Danish towns. Despite the exile of several scientists from Germany (Einstein, Pauli, Wolfgang), Heisenberg stays on and leads the German science program. This book is in fact a speculative play where the ghosts of Heisenberg, Boh ...more
Jason Furman
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, play
I didn't love this as much as I wanted to. This play centers around two meetings between Bohr and Heisenberg in Copenhagen. The first in 1941, during the war, where the play conveys the 'uncertainty' (get it...) about what Heisenberg's intentions were, what happened at ...the meeting -- was Heisenberg warning Bohr about the German bomb project, deliberately sabotaging it, seeking help on it, looking for someone to spy on the Americans, etc. The second is in 1947 in which they try, unsuccessfully ...more
I'll come back and write a proper review for the book once I manage to disentangle my thoughts on it. For the moment the only coherent thing I can say is: read it! The play and then - and this is an imperative to really "get" it - the two postscripts. Just read it.

[eda Oct 2015:] And now that I have finally seen it on stage I can only repeat what I said before: read it.
The best play I've seen. After hearing the reviews from England, was fortunate enough to catch it at Broadway about a month after it first opened. And the screenplay includes an excellent 40-page non-fiction history of quantum mechanics and Heisenberg. ...more
Jul 31, 2010 rated it it was ok
For a Tony Award winning work (Best Play, 2000) Copenhagen didn't really impress me. The story seemed interesting enough; there isn't much action, which is ok for a play, and the stakes are rather high. I was distracted early on, however, by the encumbering use of breaking the 4th wall. This is a useful device, but in the beginning of the play the action seemingly flits back and forth without warning. Those who regularly read plays would be easily confused by this random shifting, to say nothing ...more
Oct 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It's a play that is based on an event that occured in Copenhagen in 1941. It was a meeting between physicists Bohr and Heisenberg. Nobody knows exactly what was said or what transpired in that meeting. Bohr stormed away from whatever Heisenberg was trying to tell him and nobody knows exactly what Heisenberg was trying to say, or what Bohr thought he was saying.

Heisenberg insisted that he was telling Bohr that he had moral objections to building a bomb for Germany and
I snapped up this celebrated play by Michael Frayn to relax from the more strenuous books I'm working through. His A Landing on the Sun was one of the highlights of past reading year. Copenhagen zooms in on the mysterious wartime encounter between nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg and his former colleague and mentor Niels Bohr. About the motives behind Heisenberg's decision to travel to Denmark there remains a lot of speculation. Frayn brings the event tentatively into relief as one of those k ...more
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Michael Frayn is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. His works often rais ...more

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