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Uncertainty: The Life And Science Of Werner Heisenberg [Paperback]

David C. Cassidy
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Jan 1994
David Cassidy's portrait of this brilliant, ambitious and controversial scientist is the definitive Heisenberg biography.

"An absorbing new biography of Werner Heisenberg ..." The Sunday Telegraph

"Uncertainty is an exquisite book." Nature

"... well balanced and exciting reading. Uncertainty is an excellent work which combines meticulous scholarship with a presentation freed of intellectual jargon and unnecessary scientific details. I see its merits first of all in its comprehensiveness and accuracy, and next in its success in recreating the personal drama of one of the greatest and most influential scientists of this century." Times HigherEducation Supplement

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Product details

  • Paperback: 669 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; New edition edition (27 Jan 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0716725037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0716725039
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 14.8 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,332,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A fascinating, well-documented biography."--"The New York Times Book Review""A monumental effort. On the controversies about Heisenberg's behavior during the Hitler regime, Cassidy is clear and reasonable."--"The New York Review of Books""An important book. Cassidy has sifted the record and brilliantly detailed Heisenberg's actions."--"The Los Angeles Times Book Review""An excellent work in its comprehensiveness and accuracy, and in its success in recreating the personal drama of one of the greatest and most influential scientists of this century."--"The London Times Higher Education Supplement""David Cassidy has written the definitive biography of a great and tragic physicist. "Uncertainty" is thorough, judicious, and revealing."--Richard Rhodes, author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb"

About the Author

For his book, "Uncertainty: The Life and Science of Werner Heisenberg," David C. Cassidy was awarded the 1992 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award in Physics and Astronomy. An associate professor of the History of Science at Hofstra University, Long Island, New York, Cassidy served as associate editor of "The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein."

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superbly written, subtle yet cutterly compelling 28 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
cassidy has performed a biographical tour de force. he beautifully explicates heisenberg's physics in all its ramifications, provides insightful portraits of heisenberg's contemporaries and their roles in his life and work and at the same time unsentimentally analyzes heisenberg the man. cassidy gies us heisenberg the genius and heisenberg the nazi collaborator. yet his understanding of german culture and history is such that one comes away feeling entirely reeducated with respect to these cataclysmic events. his writing is lucid and vivid. my only criticisms are the lack of mathematical formulations- somemtimes only the math can convey the principle- and his occasional failure to define more abstuse mathematical terms. overall this is a magnificent work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best 'science biographies' ever 18 July 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Cassidy's book is simply superb. Few other biographies of scientific figures can rival this book's account of the 'figure' or the 'science'. This work is outstanding at every level. Read it and reap!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very serious book about a very serious matter 4 Mar 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is not for the lighthearted. It is an excellent account of the life of Werner Heisenberg and of the strong nationalism that blinsided him to the situation in Nazi Germany. His brilliance as a first rate physicist notwithstanding, the book shows by example what happens to science when it becomes totally subservient to a totalitarian regime and shows the problems of regional politics overtaken by a ruthless dictator in the funding of science. The fine line that Heisenberg walked did not diminished his scientific accomplishment but did not excuse him from his participation in a scientific enterprise that could very well have changed the course of history had it been successful, a Nazi A-bomb. The book is also a lesson on the results of elitism in science and it shows how the Nazis cheated themselves from an even greater role in nuclear physics because of their policies.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superbly written, subtle, yet utterly compelling 28 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cassidy has performed a biographical tour de force. He beautifully explicates Heisenberg's physics and all its ramifications, provides insightful portraits of Heisenberg's contemporaries and their roles in his life and work and at the same time unsentimentally analyzes Heisenberg the man. Cassidy gives us Heisenberg the genius and Heisenberg the Nazi collaborator. Yet his understanding of German culture and history is such that one comes away feeling entirely reeducated with respect to these cataclysmic events. His writing is lucid and vivid. My only criticisms are the lack of mathematical formulations- sometimes only the math can convey the principle- and his occasional failure to define more abstruse mathematical terms. Overall this is a magnificent work.

Since this book was published, a publication of Bohr's diary revealed the content of their famous meeting. Heisenberg was looking for atomic secrets after all. Cassidy could not know this, of course. His demi-hero was just a bit more tarnished than his biographer had hoped.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete biography 31 Dec 2004
By Martijn13Maart1970 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As the reviews in at the backcover stated, the writer deals thoroughly and fairly with the controversies surrounding this great scientist. This book gives a good overview of the man himself, his science, and the times he lived through. It is one of those works of enormous scope, that will probably not be topped. Just like the Making of the Atomic bomb or other alike tour the force works, it makes me wonder how many letters, sources, and interviews must have been worked through to make the picture come alive.

This is the definitive work on Heisenberg, and it gives also the best explanation of how the quantum Copenhagen interpretation as well as the uncertainty principle work! So it is recommended for historians, for scientists, or people who have an interest in both. Very highly recommended!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!! 4 Nov 2004
By Librum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Uncertainty" is an outstanding piece of biographical and history of science writing. The only shortcomings of the book, in my view, are: 1) the short shrift it gives to WH's life and career post-WWII; and 2) its sometimes overly abstruse exposition of WH's science. Concerning this last point, Cassidy is clearly writing for an expert (or at least highly sophisticated lay) audience. Though I got the gist of much of the specialist detail in "Uncertainty", I would have appreciated and greatly profited from some more general discussion along the way. That said, Cassidy paints the science in sufficiently broad strokes that even the non-specialist can grasp (with some effort!) something of the beauty and complexity of quantum physics. I have always been fascinated with quantum physics. Having just finished "Uncertainty" I am all the more intent on brushing up my math and doing some serious study of the discipline. Books like "Uncertainty" inspire the quest for knowledge. Cassidy is to be commended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great biography of Heisenberg: A founder of quantum mechanics and a physicist in Nazi Germany 16 May 2014
By Daniel Putman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a masterpiece of biographical writing and one that will stay with you long after you read it. Its lasting impact is not just because of Heisenberg's ground-breaking contributions to physics but because Cassidy fully engages the reader in the personal and moral issues surrounding Heisenberg's decision to stay in Nazi Germany and his eventual work on nuclear fission for Hitler's regime. There were times when I was in awe of Heisenberg's genius and times when I wanted to slam my fist down in frustration because of Heisenberg's self-induced isolation from the horrors around him. Heisenberg wanted to "preserve" theoretical physics in Germany and argued that science and politics were totally separate domains. Yet he wanted to do everything he could to help Germany win the war. Then, after the war, he formed numerous rationalizations and half-truths about how he was keeping atomic weapons away from Hitler. None of the evidence supports that claim and Cassidy does a thorough and very fair job of laying it all out. Cassidy's in-depth understanding of Heisenberg's personal history prevents him from making sweeping judgments about the man but he clearly and frequently points out Heisenberg's compromises and the often dubious reasons he gave for doing them. He shows in detail how Germany as a nation and as a culture became so deeply imbued in Heisenberg from youth on that he simply could not bring himself to leave or actively protest. And, as Cassidy shows, once Heisenberg initially accepted the regime and the first expulsion of Jewish colleagues from their jobs and their homes in 1933-34, it became just a little bit easier the next time to compromise again. In many ways the book is a study in self-deception but done with a profound and caring understanding of the subject. One reason this book is so powerful is that it is not simply a value judgment on Heisenberg by the "winning side" but a well-written study of the development of a person's character by an author who cares about his subject.

In 545 pages of text Cassidy spells out in detail the life of one of the most famous people in physics. As expected, a good deal of the book deals with Heisenberg's physics - both his own contributions and his relationships with other great physicists of the time. Almost all of the physics material is clear and understandable. I would estimate about 15-20% of the material on quantum mechanics is technical, including some of the most famous equations in physics. I skipped a few paragraphs but never lost the flow of the book. I don't think this should be held against the author since, as the book is a major resource on Heisenberg, Cassidy had an obligation to include some of the technical details for those with a background in physics. I never found these sections intrusive. Other than the sections involving the equations themselves, as a non-scientist I found Cassidy's explanations excellent. The book is a journey through the origins of quantum mechanics.

This large and detailed book is absolutely worth reading for anyone interested in the history of science in the 20th century. It also is worth the time for anyone interested in a careful character study of a brilliant human being who lived through one of the most repressive and destructive political regimes in human history. What Heisenberg did to compromise and survive in that environment, and why he did it, would make a fascinating book in itself. This book does all that and does it well while at the same time fleshing out the foundations of much of modern physics. I recommend this book in the highest terms.
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