Who doesn’t love biographies of great scientists??
But, unfortunately, it is only a handful of scientists who capture the imagination of the public. And it is their biographies which sell like hot-cakes. Here, I list some non-so-well known biographies which I really liked..
“Chandra” by Kameshwar Wali is one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read. I have read the entire book twice and would love to read it again. It is not really a scientific biography. Non-physicists should have no problems with the book. Quite a lot of space would have been devoted to his days at Cambridge. And, the famous Eddington-Chandra episode is surely the highlight of this section!!
The book ends with a very long “interview” with Chandra. In this, you will find him talking about a huge number of things : Physics, India, Art, Personal life, why he never came back to India etc. The book is a fitting tribute to this great man.
ps: I have found that very few in India know about Chandra. I have his photo in my room and not a single visitor to has been able to identify him. Hence added it to the not-so-well-known list!
Next up is Climbing the Mountain., a biography of Julian Schwinger by Jagdish Mehra. Schwinger won the Nobel with Feynman and Tomonoga and (unlike Feynman) remained outside the public glare to a large extent. This book is more of a scientific biography. But, it has enough juicy anecdotes to make it enjoyable for non-physicists. Much like Dirac, he isolated himself from the rest of the physics community in the later years. This book and QED and the men who made it are probably the only detailed accounts of his life. Btw, Mehra has a fabulous book on Feynman too.(The Beat of a different drummer) But, I said not-so-famous pple!
Yet another physicist: John Bardeen. The only person to have got two Nobels in physics. Despite the fact that we use his discoveries (semiconductor transistors!!!..) on a daily basis, not many of his know him. His other Noble was for the BCS theory of Superconductivity. He played a major part in developing a great condensed matter physics program at UIUC. This book must be easily accessible to non-experts.
Now, something outside physics.. There is a wonderful autobiography by Werner-Von-Braun, the man behind the V2 of Germany (WW II). He later moved over to the US and was behind the “Saturn” launch vehicle. I am having trouble tracking down the book’s title..( can some one help me???) I read it quite a while ago in IITM’s library. In this book, he narrates explains some of Hitler’s plans, the german rocket program etc. He explains his move to the US. It has a gentle mix of politics and science (and controversy!!)…it must be a fascinating read for any space-enthusiast.
Do you have your own choice of great-but-not-popular biographies??