No scientist has done more to shape our understanding of the universe than Murray Gell-Mann, the Nobel Prize-winner considered by many colleagues to be the most brilliant physicist of his generation. His discovery of the quark and the Eightfold Way were cornerstones for all that followed in particle physics, the effort to understand the very stuff of creation, In this, the first biography of Gell-Mann, George Johnson tells the story of a remarkable life.
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As its subtitle Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics indicates, this is a biography of the quirky human being and father of quarks, the brilliant American Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Born in New York in 1929, he is a surviving member of a great generation of physicists who rode the wave of the atomic bomb and its aftermath in theoretical physics. Gell-Mann rubbed shoulders and argued the toss with the likes of Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Richard Feynman.
George Johnson, an award-winning science writer for the New York Times and author of four other books, spent several years compiling this wonderful portrait of Gell-Mann, warts and all. Johnson certainly conveys for the general reader the brilliant, complicated, always fascinating and often exasperating man that he eventually came to like and respect.
Gell-Mann was something of a prodigy, graduating from Yale at 18 and getting his doctorate from MIT by the age of 21. Within a few years he was recognised as one of the foremost theorists in the strange world of particle physics, who studied the behaviour of subatomic particles and proposed the existence of quarks, one of the fundamental constituents of matter. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1969.
As Johnson describes and explains, life within the highly competitive academic world of particle physics was particularly rebarbative but Gell-Mann managed to shoulder his way through to the top. A Dickensian character, he was at times a show-off and bully but also a generous polymath, who subsequently has espoused environmentalism and arms control.
Under Johnson's expert guidance (assisted by a glossary, notes and bibliography) even the general reader is guided through the complex science and life of this charming conversationalist... apologetic procrastinator and... dispenser of acid remarks--Murray Gell-Mann. --Douglas PalmerReview:
"A dramatic and lucid biography of Gell-Mann, one of the true geniuses of the twentieth century." Daily Telegraph "Outstanding...enthralling." The Times "An everyday tale of scientific genius, of fiercely competitive boffins trying to publish before each other, of arrogant intelligence and dazzling science. As a primer for work in fundamental physics of the last half-century, it is a brilliant achievement: Johnson writes with assurance, lucidity and charm." Financial Times
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