True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen: The Only Winner of Two Nobel Prizes in Physics Paperback – 28 Oct 2002
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About the Author
Lillian Hoddeson and Vicki Daitch
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Nick Holonyak, Jr.
John Bardeen Chair Professor of
Electrical and Computer
Engineering and Physics, and
Center for Advanced Study
Professor of Electrical and
University of Illinois
But there really is so much to enjoy in this book. Although born in Wisconsin, and not Minnesota, Bardeen would have been so comfortable in Garrison Keillor's world. Bardeen seems straight out of Lake Wobegone and names like Clarence Bunsen and Florian Krebsbach kept coming to mind. Here was a loyal, moral, dedicated man, focused on his life and work, but needing few words to talk about it. Together with Brattain and Schockley (sort of), Bardeen invents the transistor, comes home to his wife, who is cooking dinner, and says to her, "we discovered something today." Wife Jane says, "that's great." After unraveling one of the greatest puzzles in all of physics, Bardeen says to Charles Slichter, "well, I think we've figured out superconductivity." Wonderful, News from Lake Wobegone stuff. (Hoddeson and Daitch's discussion of superconductivity is quite good, by the way.)
But that's the fun part. In the physics world, there are so few Bardeens. Not just in terms of intellect, but also in terms of generosity, humility, broad and inclusive vision, and overall respect and like for colleagues. I particularly liked the relationship between Bardeen and Brattain. Some physicists can only work alone, but for those who prefer collaboration, finding a partner like Brattain makes every workday fun and exciting.
Chapter 15 on Bardeen's work with charge density waves was also interesting, if dark. This chapter is an important lesson to those who believe science is the absolute collection of truths and facts. In reality, science is filled with that we do not understand and, as a result, consists of differing opinions and views, just like any other field. It was disheartening, but realistic, I feel, to read that disagreement can also include hurtful disrespect from colleagues/competitors, but Bardeen always maintained the highest levels of professionalism.
It was also disheartening to read in the acknowledgements that Betsy Bardeen Greytak had passed away. ...P>Other than physicsits, I'm not sure what audience will appreciate this book. But it will be interesting for all those, like myself, who have read, enjoyed, and mostly understood the "popular" Richard Feynman books and biographies.
The authors do a good job of describing a taciturn scientist and golfer who was much-loved and greatly respected as a person. Unfortunately, as with all biographies of prodigies, it generally is a foregone conclusion that the authors are not equal to the accomplishments of their subject. Even bearing this caveat in mind, I found the book to be a disappointment.
I understood as much of Bardeen's seminal work explaining superconductivity after reading the book as I had before, and this was not for lack of attentive reading. This cannot have been because it is inordinately complicated; Bardeen had been wary of publishing his explanation of superconductivity because it was so simple that he felt he must be missing something.
Similarly, the relevance of the transistor - the other discovery for which Dr. Bardeen won a Nobel Prize - is explained as the invention of a smaller vacuum tube which is of use in consumer electronics and hearing aids. That transistors could be, were and are, connected in such a way as to allow logical circuits, microchips and the internet to exist, doesn't get the mention it merits. On the other hand, there are ample references to the sociology of Nobel Laureates, Thomas Kuhn's theories about scientific advances, and even a 17 page epilogue or bonus material concerning theories about how prodigies come to be. On top all this, the dye used to color the hardcover version of this book rubbed off onto my fingertips.
I enjoyed reading parts of this book, and hope that eventually other authors will write a more complete and informative book about a most interesting scientist.
Everything comes to life here...the excitement of the creation of the point contact transistor, the fury of the development of BCS theory. I had absolutely no doubt going into this book that John Bardeen was infinitely smarter than me...what was depressing was that he was also a much better human than me in every way...a better golfer, better father, more humble...His only flaw seems to be that his wife, Jane, wishes he had spent more time with her and perhaps slightly less passionate about physics. He even died the way I would like to die...suddenly at an advanced age.
The authors mention that the BCS theory paper, which was the basis of his second Nobel Prize, is a masterpiece of modern physics. This prompted me to read that paper and I must agree...every property related to superconductivity was calculated. Were the paper done today by an untenured assistant professor, I would advise them to break it into 5 papers...for good reasons...it is all here.
I thank the authors for taking such care with such an important figure of history.
p.s. with regard to the suspected U of I bias of the authors, I would say this...WILLIAM SHOCKLEY, BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE INVENTION OF THE TRANSISTOR!