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The The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius by [Farmelo, Graham]
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The The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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`Superb biography.' --Observer

`A sensitive study of a complicated genius.' --Sunday Times

`[Dirac] is fortunate to have Farmelo as his biographer.' --Guardian

`Dirac should be more widely recognised. Luckily for the reader, he is interesting enough in his own right that doing so is a pleasure.' --The Times Paperback of the Week

`Masterful biography ... a deeply humane portrait.' --Irish Times

`Sympathetic biography ... makes one warm to this complicated man of deep feeling but limited expression.' --Independent on Sunday

`Deserves plaudits for balancing a technical account of Paul Dirac's work with a sensitive story of a peculiar person ... commendable portrait.' --Daily Telegraph


'This is a beautifully written, remarkable biography of a remarkable man. It paints a sensitive portrait of his character, puts into words his science in a way that will capture every reader's attention and memorably conveys Dirac's achievement.'

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2818 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (22 Jan. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0030UDWF2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #83,289 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Top Customer Reviews

By Brian R. Martin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 Mar. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dirac was one of the founders of quantum theory and one of the most profound and original minds of the twentieth century. But, as the title of this book says, he was also a very strange man, austere in his personal relations, sometimes to the point of perversity, and unable to communicate, either emotionally or verbally, except with only a few very close friends. The origin of his behaviour may have been a form of autism, but was undoubtedly also influenced by his early family life and the relationship with his parents, particularly his father. The book thoroughly and sensitively weaves the story of the development of Dirac the theoretical physicist and his discoveries with the psychology of his personal life, and explores how the influence of his family was important in shaping his interaction with the world.

Dirac's achievements, grounded as they are in advanced mathematics, are difficult to explain to non-scientists, but the author succeeds admirably and his clear explanations enable the general reader to appreciate even the most abstract concepts. Anecdotes about Dirac are part of the folklore of physics, but this book contains a wealth of documented facts and information that I for one was unaware of. The most surprising (for me) was Dirac's experimental work on isotope separation. Above all there emerges from the book a strong impression of what drove Dirac in his endless search for perfection as he saw it. Needless to say, he was not satisfied that he had achieved this (even towards the end of his life saying to one person that his life had been a failure!), but his ideas remain as important as ever. Suggestions he made, long overlooked, are still proving to be fruitful today.
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Format: Hardcover
I had long wanted a biography of Paul Dirac, certainly one of the most elusive figures in 20th century science. The biographies prior to this one were typically just a brief collection of anecdotes -- stories which are by now so common in the literature that they have become cliches. Worse, discussions of his scientific work are typically done in such a manner as only to be of interest to specialists. This was frustrating for anyone who has read biographies of 20th century physicists, and I confess to having read a lot of them. There has got to be more to this man than anecdotes and equations, I told myself, but over the years nothing appeared. No one it seemed wanted to come close to the reality of Dirac, to create a sustained, coherent, and objective narrative of the man and his thinking. Until Farmelo. The wait was worth it. The result in an overwhelming book, all but impossible to put down.

I highly doubt you have ever read a scientific biography like this one. The hoary old cliche of "triumph and tragedy" should be retired after this book, the phrase doesn't begin to give Dirac's life justice. This is one grim, sad tale but it is also a remarkably balanced one. It is also a fascinating, brilliantly told, history of the times when Quantum Mechanics was born in the mid-twenties until the rise of of string theory six decades later. Highlights include the best description of the Kapitza affair I have ever read (when the great Russian physicist, after doing brilliant work at Cambridge, was forbidden by Stalin to leave Russia again, a state of affairs, despite the protests of his colleagues especially Dirac, that lasted for decades). The book also has the best description on Dirac's work and thinking for a non-specialist audience I have come across.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a Physics student, and love to read things not directly related to my course; this book fits the bill perfectly, and, although not a big fan of biographies, this book unfolds like a well written story, where all the characters that come and go just happen to be Nobel Prize winners, or, more likely, have things that we use every day named after them.

I could not reccomend this book more for people with even a passing interest in Physics, there's not too much hardcore maths here at all, but the story and the way he is portrayed is magical.
Farmelo, I salute you.
And everyone, but this!

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By Jeremy Walton TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 July 2011
Format: Paperback
Dirac was one of the most original thinkers in the loftiest realms of theoretical physics. He discovered some of the central equations in quantum mechanics and, convinced of their mathematical beauty, believed in their prediction of a new particle which had the same mass as an electron but the opposite charge. This was the positron; when it was discovered in experiments soon after Dirac's prediction, it turned out to be merely the harbinger of a whole zoo of antiparticles which are known collectively as antimatter. It was this feat for which Dirac was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics at the age of thirty-one, becoming the youngest theoretician ever to recieve this singular honour. The importance of this discovery is underlined towards the end (p423) of this excellent biography, with a casual mention of positron emission tomography (PET) as a medical imaging technique which has become so widespread that we take it for granted.

Dirac occupied a central position in the group of around fifty physicists who were working on the development of quantum theory in the first half of the twentieth century but, being an unemotional, literal-minded person of very few words, his interaction with his colleagues (and the rest of humankind) was famously eccentric. Several stories which illustrate this point are scattered throughout the book, of which probably the best-known comes from a one-sided conversation between Dirac and Niels Bohr. The latter was a similarly distinguished member of the quantum physics community but, famously sociable and loquacious, actively encouraged collaboration through his Institute for Theoretical Physics. During his first visit there, Dirac was called into Bohr's office to begin collaborating on a paper (p111).
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