OTTO HAHN: A SCIENTIFIC AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Otto Hahn

OTTO HAHN: A SCIENTIFIC AUTOBIOGRAPHY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Early in 1939 the eminent German physicist Lise Meitner, then in Stockholm, along with O. R. Frisch, wrote Niels Bohr that the recent work of Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in Germany showed that the uranium atom had been split. Bohr announced the results to a meeting of the American Physical Society on January 26, 1939, and the rest, as they say, is history. Otto Hahn's memoir of his life is a record of the scientific path leading up to and beyond that momentous turning point. It is a characteristically German record, reported methodically, pedantically, chronologically, starting with Hahn's pioneering days in London working with Sir William Ramsay, in Montreal with Lord Rutherford, and later, his long-term association with Meitner and Strassmann in Berlin. The style is relentless and spare in metaphors. The reader unarmed with a periodic table or unversed in radio-chemistry may be lost in the genealogies of ""mother"" elements, half-lives, beta rays, and fission products. The occasional asides to describe personalities and history are brief, perhaps unconsciously humorous in the early parts of the book, and later poignant: Meitner's enforced departure from Germany, (she was ""over 50 percent non-Aryan""); Hahn's seizure by American and British soldiers in 1945; and the publisher's postscript: Hahn, deeply distressed by the first atom bombs for which ""he felt a personal responsibility...has become a convinced opponent of atomic weaponry."" The several appendices of translations of Hahn's principal papers plus a ""Who's Who"" in nuclear physics add to the book's luster as a document in the history of science.

Publisher: Scribners