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Nuclear Family

Rudolf Peierls, 19 June 1980

Disturbing the Universe 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 283 pp., £6.95, November 1979, 0 06 011108 9
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... For believers in the ‘Two Cultures’, this writing by a scientist would be hard to classify. Freeman Dyson is a scientist of great distinction. He is best-known for his share in laying the foundations of quantum electrodynamics, the discipline which describes the interplay of charged particles, such as electrons, with each other and with ...

Doom Sooner or Later

John Leslie, 5 June 1997

Imagined Worlds 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harvard, 216 pp., £14.50, May 1997, 0 674 53908 7
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... Freeman Dyson warns us in Imagined Worlds that he is now ‘an old scientist pretending to be a sage’ and that ‘we learn from science and from history that the future is unpredictable.’ As well as diagnosing our present ills, however, Dyson offers strong hopes that our descendants will colonise not just their own galaxy in its entirety, but others too ...

Shouting across the gulf

Mary Midgley, 18 October 1984

Greenham Common: Women at the Wire 
edited by Barbara Harford and Sarah Hopkins.
Women’s Press, 171 pp., £3.95, June 1984, 0 7043 3926 9
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Weapons and Hope 
by Freeman Dyson.
Harper and Row, 347 pp., £10.95, May 1984, 0 06 337037 9
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... needs to try to understand the feelings as well as the official thoughts of their opponents. Freeman Dyson puts this point well, saying that we are sharply divided into those who feel like Warriors and those who feel like Victims. Each set has its own language and speaks mainly to its own members. Dyson, an ...

Anyone for Eternity?

John Leslie, 23 March 1995

The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead 
by Frank Tipler.
Macmillan, 528 pp., £20, January 1995, 0 333 61864 5
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... be ugly, he argues, and hence (a step sure to raise many eyebrows) unlikely to be good physics. Freeman Dyson, he notes, has shown how life and thought might continue for ever in an endlessly expanding universe despite the constantly increasing cold, or rather because of it. Dyson explains that as temperatures fell ...


Peter Campbell, 4 August 1988

Who got Einstein’s office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study 
by Ed Regis.
Simon and Schuster, 316 pp., £12.95, April 1988, 0 671 69923 7
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by James Gleick.
Heinemann, 354 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 9780434295548
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The School of Genius 
by Anthony Storr.
Deutsch, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 233 98010 5
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... When von Neumann died, the computer was dismantled. No one else quite knew what to do with it, and Freeman Dyson says: ‘The snobs at our institute could not tolerate having electrical engineers around them who sullied with their dirty hands the purity of our scholarly atmosphere.’ In Regis’s account von Neumann stands as the link with the ...

Mental Arithmetic

Nicholas Wade, 7 January 1993

Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics 
by James Gleick.
Little, Brown, 532 pp., £18.99, October 1992, 0 316 90316 7
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... of ice water, Feynman had visibly put his finger on the reason for the catastrophe. As his friend Freeman Dyson later remarked, ‘the public saw with their own eyes how science is done, how a great scientist thinks with his hands, how nature gives a clear answer when a scientist asks her a clear question.’ In a dissenting report, which witheringly ...

Flying Pancakes from Space

Chris Lintott: Interstellar Visitors, 3 June 2021

Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life beyond Earth 
by Avi Loeb.
John Murray, 222 pp., £20, February 2021, 978 1 5293 0482 4
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... orbiting solar panels first appeared in Olaf Stapledon’s novel Star Maker (1937), which inspired Freeman Dyson to develop the idea of the Dyson sphere, designed to capture as much of a star’s energy as possible. Alas, the behaviour of Boyajian’s Star turns out to be the result of dust in its solar ...


Ed Regis, 26 May 1994

The Beat of a Different Drum: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman 
by Jagdish Mehra.
Oxford, 630 pp., £25, March 1994, 0 19 853948 7
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... see it continue,’ he said. ‘I don’t see anything wrong with topless dancing.’ He was, as Freeman Dyson put it, ‘all genius and all buffoon’. All that’s on the one hand. Lurking on the other hand, however, are a number of dangers for the biographer. Feynman devoted his life to physics: ‘Physics is my only hobby,’ he once said. ‘It is ...

When big was beautiful

Nicholas Wade, 20 August 1992

Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research 
edited by Peter Galison and Bruce Helvy.
Stanford, 392 pp., $45, April 1992, 0 8047 1879 2
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The Code of Codes 
edited by Daniel Kevles and Leroy Hood.
Harvard, 397 pp., £23.95, June 1992, 0 674 13645 4
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... highly prescient in regard to the Hubble, was made several years ago in an essay by the physicist Freeman Dyson. Big science projects take so long to build, he noted, and the advance of technology is so quick, that by the time the big instrument is finished there are often cheaper and better ways to the same end. The nemesis of the Hubble telescope is ...

Goodbye Moon

Andrew O’Hagan: Me and the Moon, 25 February 2010

The Book of the Moon 
by Rick Stroud.
Doubleday, 368 pp., £16.99, May 2009, 978 0 385 61386 6
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Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon 
by Craig Nelson.
John Murray, 404 pp., £18.99, June 2009, 978 0 7195 6948 7
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Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon 
by Buzz Aldrin and Ken Abraham.
Bloomsbury, 336 pp., £16.99, July 2009, 978 1 4088 0402 5
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... public thrills, von Braun embodied a particular kind of Cold War moral journey. ‘In the end,’ Freeman Dyson wrote, ‘the amnesty given to him by the United States did far more than a strict accounting of his misdeeds could have done to redeem his soul and to fulfil his destiny.’ Destiny. A useful word in the age of the Moonshot. It was felt that ...

Milk and Lemon

Steven Shapin: The Excesses of Richard Feynman, 7 July 2005

Don’t You Have Time to Think? The Letters of Richard Feynman 
edited by Michelle Feynman.
Allen Lane, 486 pp., £20, June 2005, 0 7139 9847 4
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... their visual idiom was gibberish to other theoretical physicists – but, with the help of Freeman Dyson at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, the diagrams soon became the lingua franca of QED physicists and their use was extended to several other sorts of physics. The diagrams have acquired iconographic status: Feynman decorated his ...

Dropping Their Eggs

Patrick Wright: The history of bombing, 23 August 2001

A History of Bombing 
by Sven Lindqvist, translated by Linda Haverty Rugg.
Granta, 233 pp., £14.99, May 2001, 1 86207 415 1
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The Bomber War: Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-45 
by Robin Niellands.
Murray, 448 pp., £25, February 2001, 0 7195 5637 6
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Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War 
by Frances FitzGerald.
Touchstone, 592 pp., $17, March 2001, 0 7432 0023 3
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... War, but it is in his book rather than Neillands’s that one encounters the nuclear physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked with Bomber Harris and his officers as a young operations analyst at the time of the Hamburg raid. Dyson must have heard many of the justifications rehearsed by Neillands – that the bombing ...

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