"I have collected in this book memories extending over fifty years...I am trying in this book to describe to people who are not scientists the way the human situation looks to somebody who is a scientist. Partly I shall be describing how science looks from the inside. Partly I shall be discussing the future of technology. Partly I shall be struggling with the ethical problems of war and peace, freedom and responsibility, hope and despair, as these are affected by science...
The methodology of this book is literary rather than analytical. For insight into human affairs I turn to stories and poems. [In fact, the title of this book comes from a poem by T.S. Eliot]...A substantial part of this book is autobiographical...It is not that I consider my own life particularly significant or interesting to anybody besides myself. I write about my own experiences because I do not know much about anyone else's...To understand the nature of science and its interaction with science, one must examine the individual scientist and how he confronts the world around him."
The above comes from the beginning of this fascinating book by theoretical physicist (encompassing pure mathematics, nuclear engineering, space technology, and astronomy), author, and professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, Freeman Dyson (born 1923). He has also been awarded a number of distinguished prizes in science.
Dyson is involved in a field of pure science, but this book clearly shows that he is a man of conscience and compassion concerned with humanity's well being.
The first two parts of this book traces his years of growing up between two world wars and his early working years. Soon thereafter, while pursuing with great success--first with scientist Hans Bethe at Cornell University and then with scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer at Princeton University (and others such as scientists Richard Feynman and Edward Teller)--his own vocation of perceiving and describing the laws that run the universe, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies, he has also been continuously involved in the moral issues affecting all of us--from disarmament to the control of recombinant DNA research.
The third and last part is concerned with Dyson's "obsession with the future" and in fact, he tells the reader that "the future is my third home." It is (at least to me) an interesting section where we get to see a glimpse of the far future through the eyes of a prominent scientist.
Finally, there is only one problem I had with this book: it has no illustrations (diagrams, sketches, and pictures)! I think these would have enhanced the book's readability. (The original hardcover version of this book has a picture of Dyson on its back cover.)
In conclusion, this is a unique book that's beautifully written giving us a snapshot into the life and mind of one of the world's greatest thinkers!!
(first published 1979; author's preface; 3 parts or 24 chapters; main narrative 260 pages; bibliographical notes; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>