The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age by David N Schwartz - review by John Gribbin

John Gribbin

Top of the Atomic Pile

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life and Times of Enrico Fermi, Father of the Nuclear Age

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Basic Books 451pp £26.99 order from our bookshop
 

In spite of its title, this is not another book about Thomas Young, the subject of Andrew Robinson’s The Last Man Who Knew Everything (2006). If anyone deserves that description, it is indeed Young, a linguist, classical scholar, translator of the Rosetta Stone, medical doctor and pioneering scientist at a time when scientists were very much generalists. The subject of David Schwartz’s book, Enrico Fermi (1901–54), might more accurately be described as the last man who knew nearly everything about physics, but that wouldn’t make such a catchy title.

Fermi’s name tends to crop up these days in connection with the Fermi paradox, his suggestion that if intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe we ought to have been visited by now. This argument is more forceful than ever nowadays, in the light of the recent discovery

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