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The Scientist as Rebel

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  419 ratings  ·  57 reviews
An illuminating collection of essays by an award-winning scientist whom the London Times calls “one of the world’s most original minds.”

From Galileo to today’s amateur astronomers, scientists have been rebels, writes Freeman Dyson. Like artists and poets, they are free spirits who resist the restrictions their cultures impose on them. In their pursuit of Nature’s truths, t
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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 14th 2006 by New York Review Books (first published 2006)
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Jimmy Ele
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: focused
Nice book of essays divided into 4 parts. Contemporary issues in science, War and Peace, History of science and scientists, and personal and philosophical essays. All of the essays were highly entertaining.
Jason
Mar 31, 2009 rated it liked it
In the future we will live on comets which will be covered in enormous trees.
Herve
May 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Freeman Dyson is a strange scientific blend of wise and moderate conservatism and pioneer of iconoclasm. He advocates cold analysis but loves what is strange. I just read The Scientist as Rebel, a wonderful book where everyone can find his or her share of intellectual stimulation.

Any relationship with innovation or entrepreneurial high-tech (my hobby)? Very little directly, and the subject is closer to my other readings books about reflexions on science (Smolin, Ségalat for example). There are a
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Laura
May 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Star Trek
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 bes
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Philipp
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting collection of essays - most of them start out as book reviews (for example, on Teller's autobiography, or Dennett's Breaking the spell), but since the New York Review of Books lets you write 4000 to 5000 words, Dyson often uses the book review as a starting point to philosophize about the book's field, the history of the field, his ideas and viewpoints, the relationship between the field and society, the possibility of evil, etc. The essays are grouped into three parts - war and ...more
EB
Jul 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Dreadfully shallow; a self-serving rehash of bad to mediocre science book reviews with some highly misguided forays into social science. Also, surprisingly dated. Never lived up to its promising title.
Nick Black
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Amazon 2008-04-12

A beautiful collection of magnificent essays -- I cried once, added six or seven books to my wishlist (Dyson seems to have read everything written this century, and plenty more), and found plenty to agree with. Look forward especially to Dyson's more esoteric influences, for instance his several pages spent quoting William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation.
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Ari
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of Dyson's essays, book reviews, and similar short work. The quality ranges from good to excellent, and I was moved by several of the pieces. I particularly liked the pieces about Feynman and Teller, both of whom were personal friends of Dyson's.

There's some overlap with "Disturbing the Universe", but I read the two back-to-back and never felt impatient with the redundancy.
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May
Feb 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Precious insights from science, religion, art, and poetry into how we ought to evolve respectfully and responsibly with planet earth.
Brendan
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I just walk around in my life assuming that everyone knows the name of Freeman Dyson. I’ve found out multiple times in my life that this is simply not the case. When he died earlier this year, I spent most of the day curled up on my couch watching some of his lectures, reading some of his papers, and just generally enjoying his spirit as my own personal act of remembrance. There was something in the way he spoke and wrote that spoke to his deep well of kindness (similar to the playfulness found ...more
Luke
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A collection of book reviews and essays celebrating scientists’s contrarian thinking:

On teaching:
To my remark that I had done nothing amiss, [Einstein’s teacher] only replied, “Your mere presence soils the respect of the class for me.”

Feynman on textbooks, worksheets, and a lot of other ideas: He became particularly concerned that teachers using the manuals might penalize children who came up with original ways of solving problems.

On labor:
Samuel Gompers:
What does labor want?
We want more schoolh
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Jason
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The best way to describe this book is "the philosophy of science." From its publication in 2006, it is remarkably foretelling of the information, biology, and biotechnology revolutions the next few decades have brought. But the source of its meditation is on the past century of physics, from the influence of science in WWII, exploration of space, religion, and the lives of luminaries: Einstein, Feynman, Wiener, Oppenheimer each of whom led a different scientific revolution with rebellion against ...more
Lucas Arthur
Mar 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
I actually enjoyed this more than I expected to. I suspected that Dyson's reputation as an iconoclast might make a more obvious showing, especially in the portions on climate change. But I actually found the arguments rational and reasonable, especially considering when they were written, and I agree that the earth is a complex enough system that we don't really understand whether negative or positive feedback loops will dominate as a result of our perturbations. With that said, I suspect that D ...more
CR
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Freeman Dyson is one of those rare beings who can balance scientific accomplishment of the highest order with a humanistic writing style. This collection of essays is bound by a style that leaves a poetic sense of grace and calm even as he reviews events as catastrophic as the atomic bomb or as epic as the future of synthetic astrobiological architecture.

If anyone is wondering where I’m getting those poems from Robert Oppenheimer that I’m referencing in my upcoming mixtape: here. This book is a
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Wilte
Jun 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ub
Well written collection of articles. I skimmed some of them, the pieces on Feynmann, on Dyson's war years, and on some other scientists (eg Edward Teller) stood out. Also nice touch: many articles had a 2016 update, what is current situation, how was the piece received. ...more
Keith
Interesting essays or book reviews on several topics. One was about WWII which interested me the most. Various science subjects were included.
Paul Dabrowa
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Freeman Dyson is brilliant.
Eric
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I bought this book, on a whim at Symposium on Thayer, I did not realize that this would be a collection of Dyson's reviews from the New York Review of Books. I assumed that it would be a coherent statement of his position regarding the scientist's revolutionary imperative. Upon finishing it, I have realized that I'm kind of glad it wasn't. The format of the book as a collection makes for the wonderful experience of following a series of articles (written often years apart, on sometimes vast ...more
Margaret
Benjamin Franklin combined better than anyone else the qualities of a great scientist and a great rebel. As a scientist, without formal education or inherited wealth, he beat the learned aristocrats of Europe at their own game...Franklin became a rebel only when he judged the time to be right and the costs acceptable...The rebellion that Franklin embodied was a thoughtful rebellion, driven by reason and calculation more than by passion and hatred.

While only a handful of essays follow the th
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Chris
Jul 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Freeman Dyson is an overlooked authority - I first read him in the pages of the New York Review of Books, where he is a frequent and extensive contributor. This book is a collection of his essays from the 1970s to the early 2000s, updated as of the date of publication (2006). There were many interesting essays on the history of 20th century science, including on atomic science, physics, and nuclear research. There were very good pieces on the Cold War, including on Russian generals, emigrant phy ...more
Charlotte
Oct 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: tatoo artists, motorcycle gang members, and other hellions
Recommended to Charlotte by: the members of the Ramones, in personal communication
A series of essays on ethics and science, written by Freeman Dyson himself! Not bad. And it's definitely interesting to learn more about this author's views on non-physics related matters.

OK, I will admit that this book may NOT be as interesting to you if you're not already interested in the contributions of Freeman Dyson to physics. And...in the spirit of full disclosure I will admit that I once considered getting the Dyson equation, in Feynman diagrams, on my butt. See http://www.iue.tuwien.ac
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Elena
Apr 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-books
Out of every science book I have ever read this collection was an utter waste of my time. The title itself showed so much promise yet never delivers. With a title like "The Scientist as Rebel" one would assume that there would be a commitment to presenting how this is so. Now before someone accuses me of not reading the prologue, let me just say that I am well aware that there were works he had submitted. However, the collection was merely a book review and a terrible one at that of every scienc ...more
Antonio Baclig
Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A collection of essays about science, the history of science, and the human condition, by a physicist with personal ties to many of the stories. Dyson’s writing is lucid and informative, and the collection presents a wide-ranging and deep-thinking observer of the twentieth century. The book is ultimately a surprising gem because of the wisdom it contains about the limits of scientific thinking, and the limited understanding of science if scientists are viewed as existing only in their intellectu ...more
David Lodge
Feb 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book with a catchy title will capture your attention if you are interested in science at all. I have seen this with books related to the brain over and over again. The 5 star reviews never mentioned his 4 page advertisement for his son's business in the first couple pages. The anecdotes regarding famous scientists and issues our civilization will have to face in the future are interesting at first, but I was out after the first chapter. Deriving conclusions in his book from anecdotes is not ...more
Adrián
Feb 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: physical
Dyson is one of my personal heroes.

As a scientist, I consider myself a free soul and a extremely curious individual. This book reflects in some way my philosophy of life and my ethics.

The scientist is a generator of knowledge about existing things. Is his job to change our vision of the world and to keep asking why. The scientist dreams, the scientist thinks and breaks paradigms, always turning the mind. This is what this book is all about.

I greatly recommend it if you're a curious individual o
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Rellac
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a brilliant read. It's a compilation of essays, articles, talks and reviews that Dyson has written/given over the years, with appended commentary.
His tone is neutral but forceful and he proves himself to be a scientist with the heart of a poet. He covers a wide range of subjects, from Nuclear Fission to Shakespeare, as well as religion. But more importantly he does this in a very understandable way. This book really inspired me, made me examine ideas and poke them from different angles
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Ed Terrell
Nov 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, 2014
Lawrence Bragg: "everything in the future is a wave, everything in the past is a particle". This is a collection of New York Review of Books by Freeman Dyson. Always insightful, his critic of these various scientific works, remind the reader, that it is not enough to have just read a book but that questioning its premises and its logic is of more import. I found, as I normally do with short articles, that the individual ones that are good are too short and the ones that I care less about too man ...more
Malquiviades
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A wise, quiet man, talking about the problems of mankind, science, ethics and religion.
Dispassionate, honest and fair in its presentation and opinions. You may agree or not with him, his ideas and conclusions, but he acknowledge the possibility of being wrong, presenting equally the theses against his owns.
In any case, a great vision of the 20th century advances and a glimpse on the future as he saw it.
Highly recommendable.
Jayme
Jun 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
Finished about half of this before it had to go back to the library. There were some interesting essays in here. And some pretty boring ones that I didn't understand as having anything to do with the theme rebel scientists (I'm looking at you Russia). Overall, it wasn't good enough that I feel the need to go take it out from the library again. And I did pull out a couple of the books mentioned in here that look a lot more interesting than this does! ...more
Aaron
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, biography
purchased this during a talk given by prof Dyson and it was a delightful read. basically an anthology of articles for his column, it reflects the human, pacifist side of dyson, not just the mathematical physicist. he'd also given a talk about his thoughts on planetary exploration and terraforming which were touched on in this book. all in all, an inspirational book for anyone aspiring to do (or continue in) science. ...more
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Freeman Dyson was a physicist and educator best known for his speculative work on extraterrestrial civilizations and for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering. He theorized several concepts that bear his name, such as Dyson's transform, Dyson tree, Dyson series, and Dyson sphere.

The son of a musician and composer, Dyson was educated at the Univ
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