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Paul Dirac: The Man and his Work Hardcover – 12 Feb 1998


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (12 Feb. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521583829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521583824
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.3 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,154,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Paul Dirac is an enigma. Unquestionably the greatest British theoretical physicist of this century … This is a beautiful little book, a pleasure to read and an excellent memorial to a truly extraordinary physicist.' European Journal of Physics

'This is altogether a small gem of a book, which packs in a great deal of information, anecdote and learning.' Ian Aitchison, Nature

'… attractively produced. The quality of the writing is good and the strength and depth of Dirac's influence on fundamental physical theories shines through. Goddard is to be congratulated for ensuring that the occasion of Dirac's commemoration in Westminster Abbey did not go unrecorded.' June Barrow-Green, Mathematics Today

' … the volume is attractively produced. The quality of the writing is good and the strength and depth of Dirac's influence on fundamental physical theories shines through.' Mathematics Today

' … this collection succeeds admirably in capturing the unique scope of Dirac's physics and in giving some insight into Dirac the man.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

Book Description

Paul Dirac is numbered alongside Newton, Maxwell and Einstein as one of the greatest physicists of all time. These lectures, given on the occasion of the dedication of a plaque commemorating Dirac in Westminster Abbey, give a unique insight into Dirac's character and his scientific achievements.

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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
After missing the first collection of essays on this brilliant recluse published soon after his death, I picked up the present version as soon as I was able. It did not disappoint.
The book is a collection of four lectures given in the subject's honor in 1995 on the tenth anniversary of his death. The final lecture and the latter part of the third are highly mathematical and technical and clearly intended for a professional audience.
But for me, the first lecture by Abraham Pais is worth the purchase price alone. Pais was not only a contemporary physicist, but also a close friend and as close to a confidant as was possible with such a reticent man.
Through Pais' eyes, we see a mathematician turned physicist who was very different from the man to whom Dirac is most frequently compared, Albert Einstein. Einstein was a physicist first, mathematician second. Dirac was exactly the opposite. Einstein became a social and political critic, Dirac never strayed far from his study. The two were similar in that both viewed mathematical beauty as primary and both hated the modern remake of quantum mechanics (after the initial theory) for very similar reasons. This last point was interesting as Dirac was the first one to combine all his contemporaries' work on this improved quantum physics into a formal mathematical structure. His resulting equation, called naturally the Dirac equation, is classic Dirac, short and sweet. It combined Einsteinian relativity with the new quantum theory and Dirac considered the result to govern most of physics and all of chemistry. Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist, says in his introductory memorial address to the book, "If Dirac had patented the equation ... he would have become one of the richest men in the world.
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Pais is a little dull in this work, not one of his best. Or is it Dirac who is a little dull.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
An insightful recollection of a nearly invisible genius. 28 Nov. 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
After missing the first collection of essays on this brilliant recluse published soon after his death, I picked up the present version as soon as I was able. It did not disappoint.
The book is a collection of four lectures given in the subject's honor in 1995 on the tenth anniversary of his death. The final lecture and the latter part of the third are highly mathematical and technical and clearly intended for a professional audience.
But for me, the first lecture by Abraham Pais is worth the purchase price alone. Pais was not only a contemporary physicist, but also a close friend and as close to a confidant as was possible with such a reticent man.
Through Pais' eyes, we see a mathematician turned physicist who was very different from the man to whom Dirac is most frequently compared, Albert Einstein. Einstein was a physicist first, mathematician second. Dirac was exactly the opposite. Einstein became a social and political critic, Dirac never strayed far from his study. The two were similar in that both viewed mathematical beauty as primary and both hated the modern remake of quantum mechanics (after the initial theory) for very similar reasons. This last point was interesting as Dirac was the first one to combine all his contemporaries' work on this improved quantum physics into a formal mathematical structure. His resulting equation, called naturally the Dirac equation, is classic Dirac, short and sweet. It combined Einsteinian relativity with the new quantum theory and Dirac considered the result to govern most of physics and all of chemistry. Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist, says in his introductory memorial address to the book, "If Dirac had patented the equation ... he would have become one of the richest men in the world. Every television set or computer would have paid him royalties." For this work, Dirac shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with German physicist Erwin Schroedinger. One unexpected consequence of this work was a mathematical conclusion that defined a "negative energy" matter (aka antimatter) solution. Simply put, he had discovered a universe noone had imagined. To this day, we see the effects of this discovery from medical necessities (PET scan imaging-Positron Emission Tomography) to science fiction (Star Trek).
The quotations and anecdotes Pais chooses are well placed and often very funny. They are also supported by the images of Dirac portrayed in the sketch on the cover and in the few photographs scattered through the first two lectures. They reveal his character well. He saw mathematical and physical realities so clearly that he simply could not understand why others did not see them as well. The photo of him "listening" to future Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman in Maurice Jacob's section is one of the most amusing of the collection.
In the second lecture, Jacob shows the path of discovery and effect on latter day experimental physics of antimatter. He goes too long in spots but is generally fine.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A Tribute to a Brilliant Man 9 Nov. 2005
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A man Stephen Hawking calls 'probably the greatest British theoretical physicist since Newton,' has got to be a pretty bright man. Paul Dirac wrote the definitive equasion that joined the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Like Einstein before him, his equasion is very simple to express, very complex in its overall impact. It explains things like how television sets or computers work.

This book is not exactly a biography, but more a tribute to him. It is a series of four talks given about Dirac eleven years after his death, upon the dedication of a plack to him in Westminster Abby.

Abraham Pais describes Dirac's character and his approach to his work.

Maurice Jacob explains not only how and why Dirac was led to introduce the concept of antimatter, but also its central role in modern particle physics and cosmology.

David Olive gives an account of Dirac's work on magnetic monopoles and shows how it has had a profound influence in the development of fundamental physics down to the present day.

Sir Michael Atiyah explains the widespread significance of the Dirac equation in mathematics, its roots in algebra and its implications for geometry and topology.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Paul Dirac - The man and his work 19 Jan. 2000
By dirac@active.ch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
We were ourselves participating in the inauguration of the Paul Dirac memorial in Westminster Abbey. Especially the speeches of Stephan Hawking and Abraham Pais were very touching as they did not only touch Dirac's work but also his personality and life. He was a very complex person and a great physicist. This book reflects that more than others about him.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1 Must-Read Essay, 2 Really Good Essays, and 1 w/ Modest Merits 24 April 2013
By David Milliern - Published on Amazon.com
Purely based on the merit of Abraham Pais' contribution to this work, this is a five-star book, even if nothing else be considered. Stachel once remarked about Pais' book on Einstein, "Subtle is the Lord," that everyone should read as much of it as they can. The reason is clearly that Pais has a wonderful grasp of the technical aspects of physics, and possesses a high degree of competency within the discipline of history, that he is able to canalize an enormous amount of content and detail into an easily digestible piece of literature. That's his brilliance: converting complexity into simplicity, and organization via insightful reflection. Such is the case with his article in this work. In fact, anyone who has read a modest amount of literature on Dirac will instantly become keenly aware of just how insightful this essay is. On top of that, Pais knew Dirac, so his perspective is complemented by the authority of experience. Therefore, being accessible to the layperson and valuable (because of copious citations) to the scholar, I have the highest praise for the essay.

The rest of the book isn't bad either. Hawking does a nice job establishing some context for the book. The second chapter on antimatter is a little on the sorry side, because of the lack of citations and the misleading history it presents. (The author of this section is, quite obviously, a physicist without training in history.) The conceptual presentation on antimatter is fine, though I have seen better. The remain two chapters can be very valuable. The third chapter, on monopoles, can be understood by the undergraduate who has gone through Griffith's "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics," and may even be intelligible to the layperson (but maybe not). The last chapter on the Dirac equation, because of ideas that would probably be new to the undergraduate in physics, such as Clifford algebras, may be limitedly intelligible, but there is still value in the text, beyond the mathematical exposition.

I definitely recommend the this book on the basis of the section by Pais, and the rest is worth thumbing through to see if it is of additional value to the reader.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1 Must-Read Essay, 2 Really Good Essays, and 1 w/ Modest Merits 24 April 2013
By David Milliern - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Purely based on the merit of Abraham Pais' contribution to this work, this is a five-star book, even if nothing else be considered. Stachel once remarked about Pais' book on Einstein, "Subtle is the Lord," that everyone should read as much of it as they can. The reason is clearly that Pais has a wonderful grasp of the technical aspects of physics, and possesses a high degree of competency within the discipline of history, that he is able to canalize an enormous amount of content and detail into an easily digestible piece of literature. That's his brilliance: converting complexity into simplicity, and organization via insightful reflection. Such is the case with his article in this work. In fact, anyone who has read a modest amount of literature on Dirac will instantly become keenly aware of just how insightful this essay is. On top of that, Pais knew Dirac, so his perspective is complemented by the authority of experience. Therefore, being accessible to the layperson and valuable (because of copious citations) to the scholar, I have the highest praise for the essay.

The rest of the book isn't bad either. Hawking does a nice job establishing some context for the book. The second chapter on antimatter is a little on the sorry side, because of the lack of citations and the misleading history it presents. (The author of this section is, quite obviously, a physicist without training in history.) The conceptual presentation on antimatter is fine, though I have seen better. The remain two chapters can be very valuable. The third chapter, on monopoles, can be understood by the undergraduate who has gone through Griffith's "Introduction to Quantum Mechanics," and may even be intelligible to the layperson (but maybe not). The last chapter on the Dirac equation, because of ideas that would probably be new to the undergraduate in physics, such as Clifford algebras, may be limitedly intelligible, but there is still value in the text, beyond the mathematical exposition.

I definitely recommend the this book on the basis of the section by Pais, and the rest is worth thumbing through to see if it is of additional value to the reader.
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