A TALE OF TWO CONTINENTS by Abraham Pais

A TALE OF TWO CONTINENTS

A Physicist's Life in a Turbulent World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The author of a highly regarded biography of Albert Einstein (Subtle Is the Lord, not reviewed; Einstein Lived Here, 1994) sums up his own life. Pais is clearly temperamentally unsuited to discuss intimate matters; what he does instead is to chronicle his passage through momentous times, describing his experiences as a privileged onlooker. Growing up in the blue-collar Jewish community of Amsterdam, Pais encountered no prejudice and, because of the exciting developments going on in quantum mechanics, determined upon a career as an experimental physicist. Then the Nazis invaded Holland, and Jews were slowly marginalized and then sent to ``labor camps.'' Some were able to flee the country and some, like Pais, went into hiding, Pais stayed underground nearly three years before being spotted by an SS officer and arrested. Luckily, his imprisonment began just as the war was ending, and Pais was spared the fate of Anne Frank, who had been concealed with her family nearby. While in hiding Pais had kept up his study of physics, and when the war ended, his career quickly flowered. He worked for some time with Niels Bohr and offers a lengthy portrait both of the man and his philosophy, particularly as it relates to the reconciliation of classical and quantum physics. He knew Robert Oppenheimer and describes his sufferings during the McCarthy hearings. He also offers stories of Einstein, Sakharov, Heisenberg, and, because his interests extended beyond the laboratory and the classroom, of such acquaintances as Pablo Casals and George Kennan. He chronicles the time he spent at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and at Rockefeller University, and speaks usefully about his research and about the writing of the Einstein biography. Authoritative and valuable historically, though because of Pais's remoteness, not widely appealing as an autobiography. (24 b&w photos)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-691-01243-1
Page count: 520pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997