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