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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it, read it, be awestruck, 14 Mar 2001
This review is from: Strange Beauty (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the Best, 19 July 2012
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Scientific Biography Without Equations, 31 Mar 2012
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Normand Hamel "Normand Hamel" (Brownsburg-Chatham, Québec) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in Twentieth-century Physics (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. I would not hesitate to declare this book a masterpiece if the author had conveyed more tension to the stories, like I found for example in "Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos" by Dennis Overbye, or "Noble Dreams" by Gary Taubes. My all-time favourite in this regard is a book that Johnson himself referred to often: "The Second Creation" by Robert Crease and Charles Mann. Where Johnson was at his best is whenever he had the opportunity to show the difference between the two greatest characters of particle physics: Murray Hell-Mann and Richard Funman. Here I imitate Gell-Mann himself who likes to play like this with other people's name. Is it not ultimately the way these very different, but equally smart, individuals will be remembered: One liked to make fun of other people, while the other preferred to have fun with them.

It is impressive to realize the shear amount of very high quality work that has been invested in compiling this biography. A real tour de force!
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