The Strangest Man

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“Farmelo’s eloquent and empathetic examination of Dirac’s life raises this book above the level of workmanlike popularization. Using personal interviews, scientific archives, and newly released documents and letters, he’s managed – as much as anyone could – to dispel the impression of the physicist as a real-life Mr. Spock, the half Vulcan of Star Trek.”

—Natural History

 

“[A] superb biography…. Those who are interested in the psychology of genius will find Dirac’s story, as told by Farmelo, compelling. The book is also a wonderful romp through the golden age of quantum physics…. This excellent biography is worthy of its remarkable subject.”


—Globe and Mail


“[A] very moving biography…. It would have been easy to simply fill the biography with Dirac stories of which there is a cornucopia, many of which are actually true. But Farmelo does much more than that. He has met and spoken with people who knew Dirac including the surviving members of his family. He has been to where Dirac lived and worked and he understands the physics. What has emerged is a 558 page biography, which is a model of the genre. Dirac was so private and emotionally self-contained that one wonders if anyone really knew him. Farmelo’s book is as close as we are likely to come.”

Jeremy Bernstein, American Journal of Physics

 

“[A] highly readable and sympathetic biography of the taciturn British physicist who can be said, with little exaggeration, to have invented modern theoretical physics. The book is a real achievement, alternately gripping and illuminating.”

—American Scientist

 

“Very easy read, very nice history book.”

Ira Flatow, NPR’s Science Friday

 

“[A]n incredibly fascinating book.”

Lev Grossman, Time.com

 

“This biography is a gift. It is both wonderfully written (certainly not a given in the category Accessible Biographies of Mathematical Physicists) and a thought-provoking meditation on human achievement, limitations and the relations between the two…. [T]he most satisfying and memorable biography I have read in years.”

Louisa Gilder, New York Times Book Review

 

“[A] tour de force filled with insight and revelation. The Strangest Man offers an unprecedented and gripping view of Dirac not only as a scientist, but also as a human being.”

—SEEDMagazine.com

 

“Graham Farmelo has managed to haul Dirac onstage in an affectionate and meticulously researched book that illuminates both his era and his science…. Farmelo is very good at portraying this locked-in, asocial creature, often with an eerie use of the future-perfect tense…, which has the virtue of putting the reader in the same room with people who are long gone.”

Los Angeles Times

 

“Farmelo explains all the science relevant to understanding Dirac, and does it well; equally good is his careful and copious account of a personal life that was dogged by a sense of tragedy…. [I]f [Dirac] could read Farmelo’s absorbing and accessible account of his life he would see that it had magic in it, and triumph: the magic of revelations about the deep nature of reality, and the triumph of having moved human understanding several steps further towards the light.”

A.C. Grayling, Barnes&Noble Review

 

“[An] excellently researched biography…. [T]his book is a major step toward making a staggeringly brilliant, remote man seem likeable.”

Star-Ledger

 

“In a probing portrait of Paul Dirac…Farmelo combines an accessible presentation of Dirac’s achievements in theoretical physics with intriguing appreciations of his private life and personality…. Imparting comprehensible glimpses into Dirac’s quantum mechanical view of the atom and delivering empathically acute assessments of his personal relationships, Farmelo achieves a first-rate scientific biography.”

Booklist (starred review)


“Farmelo proves himself a wizard at explaining the arcane aspects of particle physics. His great affection for his odd but brilliant subject shows on every page, giving Dirac the biography any great scientist deserves.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

“Paul Dirac was a giant of 20th-century physics, and this rich, satisfying biography does him justice…. [A] nuanced portrayal of an introverted eccentric who held his own in a small clique of revolutionary scientific geniuses.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


“Paul Dirac was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. He was also a very peculiar man. In this wonderful biography, Graham Farmelo manages to capture both aspects. It is a model of what the biography of a scientist should be.” Jeremy Bernstein, author of Quantum Leaps

 

“While I’ve read a large number of treatments of the history and personalities involved in the birth of quantum mechanics, this one is definitely the best.... Farmelo’s book is quite wonderful, by far the best thing written about Dirac as a person and scientist, and it’s likely to remain so for quite a while.”

Peter Woit, author of Not Even Wrong


“This is a rich book: it pinpoints the moment, the milieu, the excitement of discovery and the mystery of matter, and it provides an alternative social history of the 20th century as well. And all of this is held together by a figure simultaneously touching and mysterious, capable of leaps of the imagination on the scale of Einstein and Newton and Darwin.” Guardian


I doubt whether a better biography will appear in most of our lifetimes…Farmelo takes the reader through difficult physics in a masterly manner…I most warmly recommend this book both to professional physicists and to laypersons interested in fundamental physics, as well as to anyone who finds the interaction between personality and intellectual endeavour fascinating.”

—Sir John Enderby, Physics World (UK)


Fascinating reading… it has fleshed out the story of a period in which a revolution in the way that we understand the physical world took place…. Graham Farmelo has done a splendid job of portraying Dirac and his world. The biography is a major achievement.”


—Peter Higgs, Times (UK)


“A well-researched and insightful biography… The divide between genius and mental fragility is indeed a fine one – a point perfectly revealed through the brilliant but perplexing mind of Paul Dirac and by this handsomely written story of his life.” Observer


“If Newton was the Shakespeare of British physics, Dirac was its Milton, the most fascinating and enigmatic of all our great scientists. And he now has a biography to match his talents: a wonderful book by Graham Farmelo. The story it tells is moving, sometimes comic, sometimes infinitely sad, and goes to the roots of what we mean by truth in science.” Telegraph

 

“Graham Farmelo, once a theoretical physicist himself and now a specialist in science communication, has produced a marvelously rich and intimate study which, if anything can do it, should finally get people talking about this great 20th-century Briton the way he deserves to be talked about.”


New Statesman


“Infinitely intriguing.” —Daily Telegraph

 

“Farmelo’s splendid biography has enough scientific exposition for the biggest science fan and enough human interest for the rest of us. It creates a picture of a man who was a great theoretical scientist but also an awkward but oddly endearing human being…. This is a fine book: a fitting tribute to a significant and intriguing scientific figure.” Sunday Herald


“An immensely detailed picture of one of the most gifted and fascinating physicists of all time.”


New Humanist


“[A] sympathetic portrait….Of the small group of young men who developed quantum mechanics and revolutionized physics almost a century ago, he truly stands out. Paul Dirac was a strange man in a strange world. This biography, long overdue, is most welcome.”


The Economist


“A page-turner about Dirac and quantum physics seems a contradiction in terms, but Graham Farmelo’s new book, The Strangest Man, is an eminently readable account of the developments in physics throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s and the life of one of the discipline’s key scientists, the taciturn Paul Dirac….[Farmelo’s] style of writing is sparkling, racy and has panache. He is entertaining and has a wry sense of humour….An excellent history of the discipline in the 20th century as well as being a biography of one of the main players.” Times Higher Education Supplement


“Outstanding … Farmelo has fashioned a biography teeming with insights into the nature – and price – of genius…. Combining first-rate historical research with narrative drive and a fascinating human story, Farmelo has produced one of the great scientific biographies of recent times.” BBC Focus


“Enthralling… Regardless of whether Dirac was autistic or simply unpleasant, he is an icon of modern thought and Farmelo’s book gives us a genuine insight into his life and times.”


New Scientist


“Fascinating…Graham Farmelo’s skill is to weave the two aspects of Dirac’s character together, telling us just enough about the physics to make it clear how important Dirac’s contribution was without overburdening us, and just enough about his oddities to be intriguing…[A] suberb book.”


—John Gribbin, Literary Review


“I hope this biography will not only make people think and talk about Dirac as the important 20th-century figure that he is, but also raise new questions about that curious phenomenon we know as genius.”


Brian Cathcart, New Statesman


“In the group portrait of genius in 20th century physics, Paul Dirac is the stick figure. Who was he, and what did he do? For all non-physicists who have followed the greatest intellectual adventure of modern times, this is the missing book.” —Tom Stoppard


“Graham Farmelo has found the subject he was born to write about, and brought it off triumphantly. Dirac was one of the great founding fathers of modern physics, a theoretician who explored the sub-atomic world through the power of pure mathematics. He was also a most extraordinary man - an extreme introvert, and perhaps autistic. Farmelo traces the outward events as authoritatively as the inward. His book is a monumental achievement – one of the great scientific biographies.” —Michael Frayn

 

“A must-read for anyone interested in the extraordinary power of pure thought. With this revelatory, moving and definitive biography, Graham Farmelo provides the first real glimpse inside the bizarre mind of Paul Dirac, Britain’s Einstein, to explain how this great unsung national hero harnessed beauty to reveal the existence of anti-matter and even to glimpse the beginnings of string theory.”


—Roger Highfield, Editor, New Scientist

 

“Paul Dirac, though a quiet and withdrawn character, made towering contributions to the greatest scientific revolution of the 20th century. In this sensitive and meticulously researched biography, Graham Farmelo does Dirac proud, and offers a wonderful insight into the European academic environment in which his creativity flourished.”


Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, Master of Trinity College, Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge and Astronomer Royal












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