Faust in Copenhagen by Gino Segrè; Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon by P D Smith - review by John Gribbin

John Gribbin

Quantum Leaps

Faust in Copenhagen

By

Jonathan Cape 310pp £20 order from our bookshop

Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon

By

Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 552pp £20 order from our bookshop
 

Gino Segrè has found a new way of telling the story of the pioneers of quantum physics, a way that is gripping and absorbing. Faust in Copenhagen is written with a style and skill that make it the early contender for science book of the year. In truth, it is a book about scientists rather than science, and all the better for that. He has chosen one moment in time – a meeting of the cognoscenti in Copenhagen in 1932 – as the kernel of his story, which is constructed around the lives of six people present at the meeting and one who should have been there. For the reader, looming over everything is the knowledge that this was just a year before Hitler seized power in Germany, with consequences that would lead to the development of nuclear weapons, using the ideas innocently being developed by those experts; but the bomb itself is scarcely mentioned by Segrè.

His Faustian conceit derives from a skit written by one of the younger participants at that meeting, Max Delbrück, and performed at the end of the week of intense scientific work, parodying the physicists and the strange new world of quantum physics as a struggle between the old guard and

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