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Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-century Physics Paperback – 4 Jan 2001

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (4 Jan. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099284324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099284321
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

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 Palmer

Book Description

'A dramatic and lucid biography of Gell-Mann, one of the true geniuses of the twentieth century' Daily Telegraph

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First Sentence
Scouring the old Manhattan telephone directories from the early years of the century, now relegated to decaying spools of microfilm in a dark corner of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, one looks in vain for the curious appellation "Gell-Man." Read the first page
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Format: Paperback
Although his name is not as well known in the public eye as other more high profile physicists, Murray Gell-Mann can fairly lay claim to being one of the intellectual godfathers of the scientific revolution known as the new physics. In particular, Gell-Mann 'discovered' (in conjunction with, but quite separately from George Zweig, in a startling piece of synchronicity/coincidence) the quark model of particles previously believed to be elementary---in other words, the fact that the bits that make up atoms are themselves not fundamental but built up out of still smaller (and even weirder!) units, which Gell-Mann (borrowing a line from James Joyce's 'Finnegan's Wake') labelled 'quarks'. This wholly remarkable book is in fact, to my mind, two books in one; a straight biography tracing the life of one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of our time as well as in-depth work of popular science, giving the reader a simple though never distorted picture of one of the most mysterious and enigmatic areas of contemporary sub-atomic physics. This, as well as the book's blessedly clear and highly readable style, make it an absolute must for any lay reader, not well versed in the arcane mysteries of quantum physics perhaps, who wishes to understand the basic stuff of which the Universe is made and one of the most remarkable products of the human scientific quest. Brilliant from beginning to end.
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By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Jan. 2016
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Murray Gell-Mann is an American scientist who reshaped the field of particle physics - which is concerned with the fundamental building blocks of matter and energy - in the second half of the twentieth century by showing how the disparate members of the so-called "particle zoo" were related to each other. He did this by suggesting that each member was in turn composed of more fundamental particles (which he) called quarks. The structure these insights brought to the particle zoo - and the associated improvements in understanding - have been described as being akin to the way that the chemical elements were organized into the periodic table in the nineteenth century. Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics for this work in classifying elementary particles.

This biography presents the man behind the science: the prodigy who entered Yale at 15 and received his PhD from MIT at 22, the avid observer and collector of birds, obscure languages and archaeological artefacts, the competitive intellectual who dominated his field (at one point, the organizers of a wide-ranging conference reviewing progress in particle physics were thinking of asking five or six experts in different areas to present, before realizing that Gell-Mann was the best person in each field, and asking him to talk about them all), and the concerned and eloquent conservationist who memorably criticized decision-makers as thinking "anything hard to quantify [can be] set to zero [so that] a highway can be driven straight through a neighbourhood or wilderness because there is no reliable quantitative measure of damage to set against the increased cost of running the road around the outside.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading "Strange Beauty" kept me in a state of blissful concentration all the way to the end. What I most appreciated about this book is the science behind the scientist. With a book like Genius" from James Gleick it's the other way around, the persona overshadows the work.

I was very impressed by the author's pedagogical powers. He has helped me to hone my understanding of many principles of particle physics. George Johnson has brilliantly exposed the unfolding of ideas that led us to our current understanding. The citation on page 301 (HC) about Richard Feynman could be applied to the author himself: << He would take it apart and put it back together so you understood it as never before >>. JG has the ability of making people understand abstract concepts without the recourse of mathematics.

The author could have recounted more mundane stories that occurred in the life of this great scientist. Gell-Mann has travelled so much and interacted with so many people that anecdotes should be pouring in this biography. My understanding is that Johnson has chosen to limit himself to the stories that were relevant to the object of inquiry more than the subject himself. Again, the science before the scientist. It is like reading a scientific biography without the equations. I actually praise this. When Gell-Mann will die there will be plenty of journalists that will pickup what was not covered here, but few will have the same talent for expounding for the general public what Murray Gell-Mann was able to achieve with his extraordinary mind.

Yet the editorial choice that was made leaves me with an unfulfilled sentiment.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This excellent biography describes the life & work of Murray Gell-Mann, whose genius & example drove progress in much of modern particle physics, including interplay between theory & experiment (completion of the "eightfold way"), & via "current algebra" & other models of the nucleus to quarks (not the same as partons), thereby towards QCD & the Standard Model. This book deserves to be on your Kindle: you will enjoy reading it, & you are unlikely to archive it!
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