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'The Strangest Man,' Dirac biography.


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This biography of Paul Dirac, by Graham Farmelo, is simply outstanding. Like all the best scientific biographies, it explains and contextualizes the subject's work and also tells their human story.  Farmelo finds ways of expressing to non-mathematicians the thrust and method of Dirac's research - no mean feat when it concerns the obscurities of quantum mechanics - and the human story is devastating. The Prologue contains a narrative which goes off like a bomb and would make a novelist envious.  It quickly becomes obvious that the author does not intend to characterize Dirac as either autistic or as being 'on the Asperger's continuum,' presumably in order to avoid imposing on Dirac a pre-conceived collection of personality traits. Only when the reader has completed the biographical story does the author turn to the question of whether or not Dirac might have been autistic. This is a great decision, allowing the complexities of his character to find their own expression in the story.

It's a pretty hefty tome but I was utterly absorbed by it.

Olly

 

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Posted (edited)
24 minutes ago, JeremyS said:

Sounds a super read. One of the city of Bristol’s, and its university’s, greatest sons.

Yes, though the author seems to find Bristol a little remiss in honoring Dirac. (Dirac was also a schoolfellow of the far more famous Archibald Leach.*)

Olly

* Of course you've heard of him.  He just pretended that his name was Cary Grant! :grin:

Edited by ollypenrice
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Thanks for posting about this. Not a book I was aware of. It seems to be very highly rated as a great read by other reviewers as well.

Will be ordering shortly - thanks.

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3 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

Yes, though the author seems to find Bristol a little remiss in honoring Dirac. (Dirac was also a schoolfellow of the far more famous Archibald Leach.*)

Olly

* Of course you've heard of him.  He just pretended that his name was Cary Grant! :grin:

Likewise remiss regarding Bernard Lovell.

 

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

Archibald Leach

That name rang a bell, but I couldn't quite place it.

6 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

He just pretended that his name was Cary Grant

Ah yes, that name rang a church bell.

Next stop, Amazon, astro darkness is gone anyway.

Edit (5 mins later, the time of one RGB exposure): book ordered.

Edited by wimvb
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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, JeremyS said:

Likewise remiss regarding Bernard Lovell.

 

Strange the small gap between saint and sinner. Had not Sputnik 1 been launched when it was he might have gone to jail for overspending public money 🤔 

Regards Andrew 

Edited by andrew s
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8 hours ago, ollypenrice said:

This biography of Paul Dirac, by Graham Farmelo, is simply outstanding. Like all the best scientific biographies, it explains and contextualizes the subject's work and also tells their human story.  Farmelo finds ways of expressing to non-mathematicians the thrust and method of Dirac's research - no mean feat when it concerns the obscurities of quantum mechanics - and the human story is devastating. The Prologue contains a narrative which goes off like a bomb and would make a novelist envious.  It quickly becomes obvious that the author does not intend to characterize Dirac as either autistic or as being 'on the Asperger's continuum,' presumably in order to avoid imposing on Dirac a pre-conceived collection of personality traits. Only when the reader has completed the biographical story does the author turn to the question of whether or not Dirac might have been autistic. This is a great decision, allowing the complexities of his character to find their own expression in the story.

It's a pretty hefty tome but I was utterly absorbed by it.

Olly

 

Just ordered “very good” used copy from World of Books for £3.48 👍🏻

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1 hour ago, JeremyS said:

Just ordered “very good” used copy from World of Books for £3.48 👍🏻

The prologue is worth more than that!

But I do miss English second hand bookshops. Pre-Kindle, here in France, I counted on a mysterious woman I have never met and who signed herself Jen, Chateauneuf de Chabre, in a large number of books I bought over several years at the local charity shop. I've always hoped I would one day meet her to thank her for her excellent taste in reading matter but, so far, I never have. Odd, because I have friends near Chateauneuf de Chabre and it's a village with about ten inhabitants! Oh well...  (The best one was Snowblind, A Life In The Cocaine Trade.  I've no experience either of cocaine or it's trade but the book was excellent.)

:grin:lly

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I, too, love this book. I got my copy many years ago, and I have read it at least twice. Now I want to read it again, but I can't find it. We just renovated our basement, and I have yet to unpack all my books.

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I enjoyed reading The Strangest Man a few years ago.  Generally I am not a great fan of biographies because although I find their background and early years interesting as they find their way to fame, I usually lose  interest once they ‘make it’ in their chosen career as an actor or politician or whatever.   Contrary to this I found this biography of Dirac a fascinating read all the way through - probably because I am interested in the physics and the history of science.  It is well written too. 

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13 hours ago, Ouroboros said:

I enjoyed reading The Strangest Man a few years ago.  Generally I am not a great fan of biographies because although I find their background and early years interesting as they find their way to fame, I usually lose  interest once they ‘make it’ in their chosen career as an actor or politician or whatever.   Contrary to this I found this biography of Dirac a fascinating read all the way through - probably because I am interested in the physics and the history of science.  It is well written too. 

I enjoy biography but it's a standing joke with my wife that she'll ask me, when I've finished one, how it was. I'll look a bit sad and say, 'He died.' :grin: What the Germans call 'Gallows humour,' I guess.

Olly

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  • 2 weeks later...

I received mine in the post today. Previously owned it seems by someone called Ruby Stockham who’s signed its inside cover.

I’m a few pages in and already ruing the things I’m not going to get done as all I want to do is get back into the book. I’ve developed a habit as well of diverting off into Wikipedia on many things that get mentioned in passing.

M

Edited by Captain Scarlet
murdering an apostrophe
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On 21/05/2024 at 16:18, Captain Scarlet said:

I received mine in the post today. Previously owned it seems by someone called Ruby Stockham who’s signed its inside cover.

I’m a few pages in and already ruing the things I’m not going to get done as all I want to do is get back into the book. I’ve developed a habit as well of diverting off into Wikipedia on many things that get mentioned in passing.

M

I also look on Google for interviews with the authors and, where appropriate, with the subject of the book. Because authors do promotional tours there is usually an interview available and it's nice to have a better idea of who a writer is, I think.

Olly

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On 23/05/2024 at 14:23, JeremyS said:

Yes, there are few videos of Dirac speaking in later life. I wanted to hear his Bristolian burr, that the book made much of, but it’s barely detectable to my ear.

Norr to moyne....

(Forgive me, I haven't been to Bristol since the eighties and my recollections of the accent are unreliable! Great city, though. One of the best.)

Olly

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4 hours ago, Zermelo said:

I've also bought a second hand copy from WOB.

As well as the very reasonable price, I was surprised to find that it was sent as Tracked 48, for no extra cost. I must try to break my Big River habit.

I ordered some paint on eBay the other day. But it was delivered by Amazon 🤔

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3 hours ago, andrew s said:

While I admire the thrift of sgl members would not buying new have rewarded the author for his excellent work?

Just a thought. 

Regards Andrew 

 

Fair point. My Kindle edition cost a tenner (in £) and will partially reward the author as well as helping Bezos maintain his minor-continent sized yacht.

Monique and I are now wary of buying second hand books online because, unless they are hardbacks, we risk finding the font too small to be legible, even using magnifying specs.

One of the few things I miss, living in France, is the chance to browse second hand bookshops in which you turn up random, but fascinating, reading material. How else would I have come to read I Sailed With Chinese Pirates by Aleko E Lilius, or Kabloona by Gontran de Poncins, or Ice Palaces by Anderes and Agranoff?

Olly

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I, too, bought the Kindle Edition. I do miss good bookshops. I used to live in Cambridge 50 yrs ago, and one of the main pleasures was going to Heffers and coming across books I never would have thought of buying otherwise. Even here, however, it is not a patch on what it was.

I still recall a few years earlier than when I lived there, I was 12 or so, being completely overwhelmed and enchanted by the smell of new books in what was then the old shop before it moved.

I tend to go for technical subjects not well served by your normal second-hand book shops.

Regards Andrew 

 

 

Edited by andrew s
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