The Strangest Man: Book summary and reviews of The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo

The Strangest Man

The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom

By Graham Farmelo

The Strangest Man
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2009,
    560 pages.

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Book Summary

Paul Dirac was among the great scientific geniuses of the modern age. One of the discoverers of quantum mechanics, the most revolutionary theory of the past century, his contributions had a unique insight, eloquence, clarity, and mathematical power. His prediction of antimatter was one of the greatest triumphs in the history of physics. One of Einstein’s most admired colleagues, Dirac was in 1933 the youngest theoretician ever to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Dirac’s personality is legendary. He was an extraordinarily reserved loner, relentlessly literal-minded and appeared to have no empathy with most people. Yet he was a family man and was intensely loyal to his friends. His tastes in the arts ranged from Beethoven to Cher, from Rembrandt to Mickey Mouse.

Based on previously undiscovered archives, The Strangest Man reveals the many facets of Dirac's brilliantly original mind. A compelling human story, The Strangest Man also depicts a spectacularly exciting era in scientific history.

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Book Awards

  • award image Costa Book Awards, 2009

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Farmelo proves himself a wizard at explaining the arcane aspects of particle physics. His great affection for his odd but brilliant subject shows on every page, giving Dirac the biography any great scientist deserves." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Paul Dirac was a giant of 20th-century physics, and this rich, satisfying biography does him justice. [A] nuanced portrayal of an introverted eccentric who held his own in a small clique of revolutionary scientific geniuses." - Kirkus Reviews

"Graham Farmelo has done a splendid job of portraying Dirac and his world. The biography is a major achievement." - Peter Higgs, Times (UK)

"If Newton was the Shakespeare of British physics, Dirac was its Milton, the most fascinating and enigmatic of all our great scientists. And he now has a biography to match his talents: a wonderful book by Graham Farmelo. The story it tells is moving, sometimes comic, sometimes infinitely sad, and goes to the roots of what we mean by truth in science." - Telegraph

"A marvelously rich and intimate study." - New Statesman

"Of the small group of young men who developed quantum mechanics and revolutionized physics almost a century ago, he truly stands out. Paul Dirac was a strange man in a strange world. This biography, long overdue, is most welcome." - The Economist

"Regardless of whether Dirac was autistic or simply unpleasant, he is an icon of modern thought and Farmelo's book gives us a genuine insight into his life and times." - New Scientist

"Farmelo is very good at portraying this locked-in, asocial creature, often with an eerie use of the future-perfect tense, which has the virtue of putting the reader in the same room with people who are long gone." - Los Angeles Times

"This biography is a gift. It is both wonderfully written (certainly not a given in the category Accessible Biographies of Mathematical Physicists) and a thought-provoking meditation on human achievement, limitations and the relations between the two. [T]he most satisfying and memorable biography I have read in years." - New York Times Book Review

"Paul Dirac won a Nobel Prize for Physics at 31. He was one of quantum mechanics’ founding fathers, an Einstein-level genius. He was also virtually incapable of having normal social interactions. Graham Farmelo’s biography explains Dirac’s mysterious life and work." - Time Magazine

"Farmelo did not pick the easiest biography to write - its subject lived a largely solitary life in deep thought. But Dirac was also beset with tragedy and in that respect, the author proposes some novel insights into what shaped the man." - Library Journal

"[A] highly readable and sympathetic biography of the taciturn British physicist who can be said, with little exaggeration, to have invented modern theoretical physics. The book is a real achievement, alternately gripping and illuminating." - American Scientist

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