NOBEL DREAMS: Power, Deceit and the Ultimate Experiment by Gary Taubes

NOBEL DREAMS: Power, Deceit and the Ultimate Experiment

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Taubes, a science writer with a physics background, here zeroes in on 1984 Nobelist Carlo Rubbia, the man, in yet another science saga about ambition, competition, egos, and politics. What's fascinating is the way Taubes captures the rhythm and pace of high-energy physics. He skims over theory to concentrate on the men (and a gratifying number of women), the machines, and the money that make or break careers. Rubbia, something of a two-time loser on the basis of past brash but erroneous pronouncements, emerges as a kingpin in the field today, someone who needed that Nobel prize badly lest he be damned as the boy who cried eureka too often. Intellectually, he's a supermind able to scale mountains of data at a single leap, gifted with a genius for electronics and with the hands-on approach of the born experimentalist. Personally, he is a combination of whirlwind, temper, and vanity with a colossal measure of chutzpah. He uses and abuses staff (eventually most leave for other posts), never forgets a slight, fires and rehires his secretary a million times. . .a pacer, rapid-fire talker, and a jet commuter from classes taught at Harvard to his ""UA1""--Underground Area 1--horde of physicists in Geneva. In Book I, Taubes narrates the successful hunt for the Z and W particles--the result of generating beams of protons and antiprotons, building them to superenergies, and then unleashing them at each other in a supercollider. Book II picks up Rubbia's next quest (and potential second Nobel) for evidence of a new breed of particles associated with the ""new physics"" of supersymmetry. Alas, round-the-clock analyses of the suspected events suggest otherwise. So goodbye Nobel #2, for now, for the man featured on the cover of Italian male Vogue, and hello to new ""superst ring"" theories. . . Is the race worth it? Does a lot of good physics get done? If the Prize didn't exist, would we have to invent it? Taubes neither asks nor answers. Instead, he suggests that there is always a handful of innovators lurking in the background who often lead the next revolution in science--perhaps they balance the bombast.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1987
Publisher: Random House