An odd but appealing portrait of an Academy Award–winning sound editor fascinated with a simple 18th-century equation that predicts the distance of planets and satellites from the central body.
Called Bode’s law, its predictions are accurate—most of the time; sometimes it fails. As illustrated in Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder (1995), critic and journalist Weschler (Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative, 2011, etc.) has a taste for talented eccentrics, and Walter Murch (b. 1943), who has worked on Apocalypse Now, the Godfather films, The English Patient, and other acclaimed films, certainly qualifies. A brilliant polymath and perhaps the world’s most respected film and sound editor, Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three. Although his impressive Wikipedia entry fails to mention it, Murch has devoted 20 years to a private crusade promoting Bode’s law in lectures, writing, and correspondence. Encountering him five years ago, Weschler was converted, and he devotes this slim volume to explaining Murch’s efforts and interviewing scientists who are almost universally dismissive. “Numerology,” one commented. Readers will have no trouble understanding the Bode equation, the mathematics of which is simple high school algebra. The author is convincing in his argument that the scientific establishment has treated Murch unfairly. There’s no denying that some objections are petty—e.g., Murch’s lack of academic training in the subject. There’s also no denying that working scientists have plenty of experience with crackpots who obsessively promote one big idea. In fact, gravity and processes of planetary formation lead to some surprising regularities. Working astronomers don’t ignore Bode’s law but consider it an ingenious ad hoc invention that doesn’t adequately explain anything.
An extended New Yorker–style profile of a public figure who is charismatic and interesting enough to deserve a fuller biography.