The remarkable life and times of Freeman Dyson, whose broad-ranging contributions to modern science included quantum physics, the exploration of space, genetic engineering and more.
Born in Britain in 1923, Dyson's career began in World War II. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in mathematics, he was assigned to Bomber Command Headquarters and tasked with analyzing the effectiveness of British raids on Germany. Schewe (Joint Quantum Institute/Univ. of Maryland; The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World, 2006) chronicles the evolution of Dyson's career, illuminating the scientific issues as they unfolded in terms comprehensible to lay readers. After the war, Dyson emigrated to the U.S. and connected with scientists who had been involved with the Manhattan Project and were now turning their attention back to fundamental questions in particle physics and quantum field theory. The hot topic of the day was quantum electrodynamics, and the two major contenders, Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman, appeared to be at odds. It was Dyson's brilliant contribution that unified their theories. While this was the high point of Dyson's career, his major contributions continued. After several years at Cornell University, he was invited by Robert Oppenheimer to join Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, where he still works today. Although he joined the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament in 1980, Dyson also worked for the Pentagon as a technical consultant. While he was unwilling to collaborate actively with the author, Schewe nonetheless benefited from interviews with Dyson's friends and family.
A fascinating account of an iconoclastic scientific polymath and the lively collection of scientists who were his friends.