Last Word

John Charap

  • The Physicists: A Generation that Changed the World by C.P. Snow
    Macmillan, 191 pp, £8.95, September 1981, ISBN 0 333 32228 2

At the time of his death in July of last year, C.P. Snow was working on this book. Its theme is the two-faced gift of physics and its applications, and of those who in not much over a generation have changed our world. Although he had completed only a first draft, his publishers have done well to let us have the book, for it is Snow at his best. In his fiction, particularly in the Strangers and Brothers sequence of novels, he charted the social changes of half a century. Here he looks at the same period and tells with clarity, economy and insight the story of changes no less profound. Most of what he writes about has been described many times elsewhere. But Snow uses to advantage his gift to say plainly and without pomposity things of importance which are so evidently true that others might have left them unsaid. And they needed to be said. Within the framework provided by an account of the great discoveries of 20th-century physics, particularly in the fundamental areas of nuclear and sub-nuclear physics, through biographical sketches and anecdotes, he illuminates a theme he had used in a speech delivered in 1960 which is reprinted as an appendix to this book:

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