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Schrödinger: Life and Thought [Paperback]

Walter J. Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 May 1992
Erwin Schrödinger was a brilliant and charming Austrian, a great scientist, and a man with a passionate interest in people and ideas. In this, the first comprehensive biography of Schrödinger, Walter Moore draws upon recollections of Schrödinger's friends, family and colleagues, and on contemporary records, letters and diaries. Schrödinger's life is portrayed against the backdrop of Europe at a time of change and unrest. His best-known scientific work was the discovery of wave mechanics, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1933. However, Erwin was also an enthusiastic explorer of the ideas of Hindu mysticism, and in the mountains of his beloved Tyrol he sought a philosophic unity of Mind and Nature. Although not Jewish, he left his prestigious position at Berlin University as soon as the Nazis seized power. After a short time in Oxford he moved to Graz, but barely escaped from Austria after the Anschluss. He then helped Eamon de Valera establish an Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin. It was here that he spent the happiest years of his life, and also where he wrote his most famous and influential book What is Life?, which attracted some of the brightest minds of his generation into molecular biology. Schrodinger enjoyed a close friendship with Einstein, and the two maintained a prolific correspondence all their lives. Schrödinger led a very intense life, both in his scientific research and in his personal life. Walter Moore has written a highly readable biography of this fascinating and complex man which will appeal not only to scientists but to anyone interested in the history of our times, and in the life and thought of one of the great men of twentieth-century science.


Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (29 May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387825207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387825205
  • ASIN: 0521437679
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 15.1 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 101,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"It is an attempt to analyze a soul, and in that respect, it surpasses even `The Double Helix' by James Watson in its examination of the most visceral drives of a great scientist." The New York Times Book Review

"What is Life? That Schrödinger knew the answer, in more ways than one, is revealed to us in this biograpy." Nature

"This is the best book available today on the life and work of Schrödinger." Times Higher Education Supplement

"It is really two books in one: a clear, elegant and complete account of Schrödinger's scientific life and achievements, and a detailed and insightful account of Schrödinger's private life." Physics Today

"...a literate, readable biography accessible to scientists and humanists alike." American Historical Review

"It is very good on the science--sometimes too good--for it does not shirk detailed expositions of Schrödinger's theories." Observer

"An unusually thorough and competent scientific biography of one of the founders of 20th-century physical theory...an absorbing account of the social and scientific culture of Europe in the period after WWI." Choice

"...full and candid story." New York Review of Books

"The quality of this biography is outstanding, and it promises to be the key authority on the life of work of Erwin Schrödinger for years to come." Science Books and Films

"...a delightfully interesting and sympathetic view of a complex and multifaceted man....This book can be recommended as one of the best scientific biographies for how veridically and sympathetically it treats its difficult, complex subject." Perceptual and Motor Skills

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great physicist - dubious kind of guy 1 Aug 2009
By Nigel Seel VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was impressed by the freshness of Moore's writing and his diligence in unearthing the daily life of Erwin Schrodinger over so many years. What do you make of a guy who spent his life falling in love easily with so many women and then seducing them? A man who in his forties suffers what Moore euphemistically calls a 'Lolita complex'? He ends up with three daughters, none by his wife, who he remains married to until the end. At least the girls got good intellectual genes.

Schrodinger was no friend to the concept of 'bourgeois marriage', and it might be argued in these enlightened times that he was doing nothing wrong. However, his lifelong self-centred and adolescent attitude to relationships led to collateral damage to many (not all) of the woman with whom he involved himself. Typically it was the younger or less well-educated who were left holding the baby, or worse.

His work was mostly blindingly competent in the spirit of mathematical physics. A strong visualiser, he was close in philosophy to Einstein and had little patience with the Bohr-Born interpretation of his wave equation. His culture, approach, techniques and beliefs all seem curiously dated now, but this was a first rate scientific biography.

This version of the book has the physics as well as the sex. The level is not particularly daunting ... first degree in physics or maths is fine.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Mind: Erwin Schrodinger 5 Jun 2008
Format:Paperback
If there is some way I could rate this book as five star plus, then I would love to do that. This is a very well researched book by an author who makes a passionate presentation of the mind and work of one of the greatest physicists of 20th century. Erwin Schrodinger is an enigmatic figure, a brilliant scientist, philosopher, poet and a humanist who lead a complex personal life; several love affairs allowed and approved by; his wife Annemarie, and husbands of his girlfriends. The author has examined and reviewed many archived materials from Schrodinger's family, friends, and universities/academic institutions who knew Schrödinger. The reader becomes fascinated by sheer brilliance, wisdom, sadness, and struggle in personal and professional life of Schrödinger.

Schrodinger was deeply philosophical in his thoughts than any other scientist of his time, but he apparently did not make far-reaching philosophical conclusions from his work in quantum physics. He was held back because he knew there was a lack of clarity. Schrödinger was deeply influenced by the thoughts of Schopenhauer, and developed strong interest in Buddhist philosophy and Vedanta (one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy.) Schrodinger intensively studied the works of Schopenhauer, Henry Warren, Max Welleser, Richard Garbe, Paul Deussen, Max Muller, and Rhys Davids to understand Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. Erwin's interest in Vedanta and Upanishads started at a young age when he was accustomed to cold hungry time in war-torn Vienna. His search for the truth never reached conclusion as his one time lover Hansi Bauer noted, but his belief in Vedanta remained the same since 1920 until his death. He was a life long believer of Vedanta.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Of all those who have walked this Earth, none can deny that Erwin Schrodinger must rank as one of the greatest geniuses of all time. He developed wave mechanics, the inspired discovery which revolutionized quantum mechanics. He derived both the non-relativistic and relativistic versions of his Schrodinger wave equation - the foundations of modern quantum mechanics. He also proved that the mathematical result arrived at by both wave and matrix mechanics was identical, thereby unifying quantum mechanics into a coherent whole. In short, Schrodinger helped us come closer to understanding the true nature of atoms and subatomic particles than perhaps anyone before or after him. His work made it possible for DNA to be discovered and for molecular biology to develop into the vibrant field that it is today. His discoveries are also relevant to the study of consciousness thanks to their applications to the 'Quantum Mind Theory'.

In the light of these great facts about Erwin Schrodinger, one would expect a considerably excellent effort to be made on any biography written about him. This is the case here. The author has written a thoroughly detailed and accurate account of the scientist's personal and professional life. All of his discoveries are described and explained in understandable language (the author is a research scientist himself). Care is also taken to emphasise the passion that Schrodinger had regarding his quest to find answers to seemingly insurmountable mathematical and physical questions.

Overall, this is a great and fitting book about the greatest of scientists.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific and sexual fireworks. 20 Jun 2003
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a masterful biography, but one need to have a profound knowledge of higher mathematics and a basic one in physics to fully understand it.

Walter Moore shows that Schrödinger's life and thought was at least controversial.

Life
Schrödinger's personal itinerary is exemplary for the 20th century. He was born in a comfortable upper-middle class, but his parents lost their savings in the German inflation after WW I. The result was famine and diseases. It marked the rest of his life. As a young man he was confronted with unemployment and nearly left physics for financial reasons!
He found a decent job only at the age of 34. Even after winning the Nobel Prize he was still confronted with 'pension' problems.

Science
Walter Moore gives us a magisterial and detailed analysis of the scientific discoveries of ES, from his humble beginnings to the elaboration of the quantum wave function and after.
It shows that ES was above all a mathematical genius and a not so brilliant experimenter.
ES remained all his life opposed to the complemantary (particle/wave) interpretation of quantum mechanics (the 'Kopenhagen oracle' for ES). For him, there were only waves!

Sex
Beside science, sex was the principal occupation of his life, with all combinations imaginable. He lived a ménage à trois and sometimes à quatre, but still fell in love with other women, also with very young ones for he had a Lolita complex. He could without doubt have been accused of paedophilia.
But his intense love affairs stimulated highly his scientific creativity.
One can only wonder if his 'wild' behaviour and negative view of bourgeois marriage were not fundamentally influenced by the fact that he couldn't marry his first true love, because her family found that he was too poor!

Politics
He had a deep contempt for the governing classes (politicians, clergy) who 'enslave men by violence and use the religious desire of many people to promote superstition to rule over the dispossessed'. He also distrusted democracy!

Philosophical world view
This is certainly one of the strangest aspects of his thoughts.
He was convinced that physics provided absolutely no answers to philosophical questions (e. g. free will). All his life he remained, like Einstein, an adept of determinism.
His philosophical views and ethical principles were completely dissociated from his real life!
As an adept of the Vedanta, he believed the Buddhist wisdom that a thing could be both A and non-A (horribile dictu)!
He was also heavily influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer.

This work gives excellent explanations of the Vedanta, and the philosophy of Mach and Schopenhauer.
It contains a very painful paragraph on Heidegger.

I see only one minus point: the author doesn't give Bohr's pertinent response to the EPR-article against the Copenhagen interpretation of qm.

This is a brilliant book and certainly the definitive biography of Schrödinger. It is by no means a hagiography and doesn't dodge some 'weird' aspects of Schrödinger's life.
Not to be missed.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I tawt I taw a putty tat! 16 Feb 2001
By D. Roberts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The 20th century has boasted a greater number of top-notch physicists than any prior epoch in history. The 21st century, and any future century beyond it, will be hard-pressed to match the level of scientific genius presented by the 20th. Names such as John Archibald Wheeler, Eugene Wigner, Paul Dirac, Max Planck, Louis deBroglie, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, John von Neumann, Richard Feynman, Roger Penrose, Freeman Dyson and Stephen Hawking have set the standard for scientific and intellectual excellence.
Another name which belongs in this esteemed list is that of Erwin Schroedinger. Schroedinger influenced the field of quantum mechanics perhaps more than any other single scientific contributor of modern times. Here, Walter Moore has compiled his unique story so that all may have access to the life and times of this extraordinary man.
Moore's writing style is easily up to the task of keeping the interest of the reader. He does an excellent job of tracing Schroedinger's academic career as he obtained posts at the university of Jena, university of Zurich, university of Berlin [he was the hand-picked successor of none other than Max Planck], university of Oxford, university of Graz (Austria), the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the university of Vienna. Schroedinger was also offered professorships at 2 US universities as well (university of Wisconsin, Madison and Princeton university), but declined both. Moore does an exquisite job in his disinterment of all the facts, personal factors and politics behind S' decisions to transfer (or not to transfer) from post to post. Moore's elucidation of S' relationship with the Nazis (who called him "Politically unreliable") is exemplery, as is his coverage of the friendships and correspondence that S shared with his peers.
What makes Moore's biography superb is that he equally concentrates on S' personal life as well as his intellectual endeavors. Moore gives an authentic and upfront treatment of S' rather bizarre love arrangements. Like the composer Richard Wagner, S had many affairs with the wives of his friends (a few of which resulted in children), as well as myriad young woman just reaching adulthood. Moore offers a credible psycho-analysis of the motivations for his sexual conquests, and comparisons to the behavior of the persona in Nabokov's "Lolita" which Moore alludes to are certainly warranted.
Like all good modern biographies, the book is filled with plenty of pictures of the personages and locales which were integrated within S' life [including the immortal assemblage of the 1927 (5th) Solvay conference]. Also, for the mathematically inclined amongst us, the work is filled with a good many of the equations that S developed and worked on during his lifetime. The good news, for those of us not so mathematically inclined, is that an understanding of them is not essential to a generic comprehension of what S accomplished.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all fans of and admirers of this great individual. People who have an interest in the history of science, physics in the 20th century, the philosophy of science and the psychology of the genius will also gain a great deal by reading this biographical treatise. Einstein once wrote S that "...you are my closest brother and your brain runs so similarly to mine" (p 426). This is a splendid illustration of just how pivotal he was to the history of science. In this biography, Moore set out to tell his story. HE DID!! HE DID!!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ....WOW 17 Mar 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book, is amazing. I came across it because I was forced to do a project for chemistry on Erwin Schrödinger, and I'm glad I did. It's a 512 page biography of him, and I think that says it all. It covers and extensive amount of ground, and is very useful for anyone doing any researh on the man. It gives a lot of background information about what was going on in his life, and the events in the world around him. Whenever he went to a new college, there was always some information on the college itself. If Schrödinger did research on a topic, there would be a small history on the scientist that came before him and how they affected him. The book is virtually packed with quotes form other people, letters, and speeches. One of the other things I liked was that it contained details of Schrödinger's personal life, such as his extramarital affairs and details on his marriage, and his family history. Want to see some pictures? There's that too. Bet you didn't know that Schrödinger wrote poetry. Well he did, and all of it is here too, in both German and an English translation. Another thing that makes the book stand out it that it is bery readable. Walter Moore did an excellent job writing the book, and it shows. I can say that you only need to read one book about Schrödinger: this one.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All aspects of Schrödinger covered 26 Dec 2005
By Klaus Stiefel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Walter Moore captures the life of Erwin Schrödinger, one of the most important theoretical physicists of the 20th century, covering his career, science, philosophy and personal life.

In this ambitious book Moore tries to shed light on all aspects of Schrödinger's life, and tries to connect them, but no coherent picture evolves. I had the impression, however, that this is not Moore's fault, but that the pieces that made up Erwin Schrödinger did not fit into a coherent whole.

A gifted student from an early age on, he took on physics. After initially dwelling in different sub-fields, he developed wave mechanics at the (for creative work in theoretical physics) late age of 38. His almost unparalelled mathematical skills made this advance possible. Schrödinger never saw mathematics only as a tool, but he greatly appreciated it's beauty. Moore does an excellent job in describing the intellectual journey towards this discovery, as well as the giants on who's shoulders Schrödinger was standing. For this work Schrödinger received the Nobel prize in 1933.

In his later years, he dedicated a substantial part of his efforts to the search for a unified (quantum mechanics - relativity) theory of physics. Just like Einstein, with whom he had an extensive correspondence about the mater, he failed. Schrödinger's scientific work is explained in quite a bit of detail. Despite being quite familiar with differential equations, but without a background in theoretical physics, I must admit that I had a hard time following Schrödinger's insights as presented by Moore.

From his student days on, Erwin Schrödinger was a believer in the Indian teachings of Vedanta, proclaiming a one-ness of all minds, which make up reality. It is hard to see how a rational 20th century scientist could adhere so uncritically to an ancient religion. However, these beliefs seemingly did not influence his science much and neither did they influence his personal life.

His personal life was, nevertheless, unusual. He was a lover of interesting women, and he had many (I am all for that!), but many of his loves were still teenagers, while he was in his 30s and 40s (very weired!). For a man of such high intellectual capacity, this shows very poor moral judgment. He was not solely interested in sex, but sincerely in love with many of them and wrote them love poems.

Schrödinger also showed somewhat poor moral judgment in terms of politics, although the turmoils of the 20th century greatly affected him (he was removed from his professorship in Graz by the Nazis). He was not an opportunist, like so many of his fellow Austrian and German physicists. Although he leaned to the left, he basically was not interested in politics at all. An irresponsible neglect during the rise of fascism in Europe!

Moore brings together all these aspects of Erwin Schrödinger, and he does so with lots of knowledge of the local culture and history of the places Schrödinger visited and lived at (Vienna, Graz, Dublin, Cambridge). This is a well researched book in all aspects and one with lots of sympathy for "Erwin".
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anything you want to know--it is here for you!! 14 Jun 2008
By Guy F. Airey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you look on page 238 on Walter Moore's book and view the Solvay Conference of Physics in 1927, you should think carefully of the world that Erwin Schrodinger was part of. All of those great minds were around him, Curie, Pauli, Einstein, etc, plus he lived through two world wars, and he had to deal with the Nazis and so on. Has anyone every lived at a better (or worse) time? The Schrodinger equation was probably the greatest discovery of the 20th century, but because of the wave mechanics involved, most people credit Einstein with being the smartest guy around because they would rather talk about relativity than a complicated equation. Our QM world is based on his equation for the most part and he did this in 1925! There is no denying this is a most complete book, having virtually every detail of ES life mentioned (some where) in it. My problem with this is it really necessary? Physicists will probably like this book because they can relate to it much better, but I guess you could skip the math and just read on. You can see how the scientists of the time pretend not to compete with one another, yet it is evident Schrodinger is the man for most of this period in time. This story is that of a great physicist that many times is overlooked because of the company he kept. He was horrified by the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, as were most of his friends and considered it mass murder, but later managed to solve the Peierls equation which allows one to calculate the critical mass of a nuclear explosive. I would recommend this book for reading, but must warn you that every sexual encounter is included and you will not complete it in a day. It was quite interesting to read of the closeness between ES and Einstein. However, this exposure of how great ES was should impress upon you how often a man of such importance is virtually unheard of in many parts of the modern world--even today. guyairey
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