Since the 1930s, the scale of scientific endeavors has grown exponentially. Machines have become larger, ambitions bolder. The first particle accelerator cost less than $100 and could be held in its creator's palm while its descendant, the Large Hadron Collider, cost $10 billion and is 17 miles in circumference. Scientists have invented nuclear weapons, put a man on the moon, and examined nature at the subatomic scale - all through Big Science, the industrial-scale research paid for by governments and corporations that have driven the great scientific projects of our time.
The birth of Big Science can be traced to Berkeley, California, nearly nine decades ago, when a resourceful young scientist with a talent for physics and an even greater talent for promotion pondered his new invention and declared, "I'm going to be famous!" Ernest Orlando Lawrence's cyclotron would revolutionize nuclear physics, but that was only the beginning of its impact. It would change our understanding of the basic building blocks of nature. It would help win World War II. Its influence would be felt in academia and international politics. It was the beginning of Big Science. This is the incredible story of how one invention changed the world and of the man principally responsible for it all. Michael Hiltzik tells the riveting full story here for the first time.
©2015 Michael Hiltzik (P)2015 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books, recorded by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.
“Michael Hiltzik tells an epic story, one with arenas of tragedy as well as triumph, and he tells it well.” (Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian)
"Michael Hiltzik sheds fresh light on the transition from small science to big science that we take for granted today.” (George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe)
I am an avid eclectic reader.
I graduated from UC Berkeley and the names of Lawrence and Sproul are on buildings on the campus. When I was in school my professors had been trained or had worked with Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958) and Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967). I found the book fascinating as it provided in-depth information about people and places I saw daily and knew only general information. I was most interested in learning about the early years of one of my former professors, which was mentioned in the book, Glenn T. Seaborg.
Hiltzik follows Lawrence’s career from a graduate student at Yale to winning the Nobel Prize in 1939 through his work in World War II on the Manhattan Project. Hiltzik builds a case showing how Lawrence’s works created the sprawling system of Government funded research laboratories we now know as the military industrial complex. In 1961 the chemical element Lawrencium was named in his honor.
The author goes into detail about how Lawrence conceived and built his first Cyclotron, or circular particle accelerator that used enormous magnets to hurl fragments of matter at one another at superfast speed. Hiltzik tells of his building the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory and his development of the hydrogen bomb. I knew about Lawrence’s work on the uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project, but I was surprised to learn about his work on developing the radar tube and the Lawrence Tube used to create color television.
Hiltzik discusses how other fields became interest in Lawrence’s work such as the University’s Medical School for use to treat cancer. Hiltzik shows how the government’s canceling of the super conducting super collider in 1993 allowed Europe to take the lead in physics research.
The book is well written and meticulously researched. I found it an absolutely fascinating read. Bob Saouer did an excellent job narrating the book.
Lawrence was clearly a towering figure in the history of accelerator and nuclear physics. He combined science, engineering, management and political skills to create and advance big scientific projects. In fact he eventually drove himself to death in those pursuits. The background historical information of this book is illuminating. The fast paced narration is an asset.
This book brings the birth of the military industrial complex to life. It puts a human face on the people behind the partickes!
Amazing story tying together an amazing scientific timeline. Lots of familiar names from highs school science class. The book did a great job of showing each ones unique contributions to sciece. Really enjoyed.
Only to those with an interest in the subject area. The book is fairly dense, but a very clear look at when science changed from the small scale private, to the large scale government-funded type.
The performance was easy to understand, but sometimes the narrator felt a bit monotonous and like he was lecturing.
Very good historical book about Ernest Lawrence, the inventor of the cyclotron, alongside a wider exploration of how Lawrence and the events of the day (WWII) led to the birth of big science. This story is wound up with the creation of the atomic bomb and the military-industrial complex, but where many books concentrate specifically on the bomb and those most directly involved (including the charismatic and sometimes controversial figure of J. Robert Oppenheimer), this book shift perspective to someone that I personally did not know much about. While I thought the book was well done and synthesized a lot of information and personalities, the biggest drawback is that I didn't particularly like Ernest Lawrence. While this is certainly not the point of the book and the book itself is excellent, a discomfort with Lawrence and his evolving world view lessened enjoyment. Which is likely not a bad outcome. The topics touched upon (government largess and control in large-scale science, the stressing of military objectives over basic scientific questions, what should be funded and what shouldn't be, openness in science) are not meant to be easy or clear or comfortable. With that in mind, the book succeeds on a number of levels, not least of which is as a cautionary tale and as food for thought.
I just cannot bring myself to finish this book. I was looking forward to Big Science providing me some education while also providing some basic entertainment, but alas it has a modicum of the former and not one scintilla of the latter. I realized the game was up when I found myself bemoaning aloud in the manner of Jeremy Clarkson; “pleeeeeease will you just get on with it?”
So, I am throwing in the towel on this book. Big Science lacks any human elements. It is cold and linear. While the narrator has an endearing voice, cordial style and decent cadence I believe the writing style compels a monotone delivery. The author gets to deep into the weeds about ancillary issues that truly have no substantive impact on the main subject. He forces the listener to imbibe in miniscule details about a certain letter or a particular offer from this or that university, but then he seems to glide right past the most interesting points, the science and the discoveries. There were moments when the momentum would pick up, a bit, and I would begin to get into it and then; ugh …. back it would go.
I typically only listen to non-fiction and history so I have learned to give these books three to four chapters to bring me in, but I simply cannot continue with this book. Perhaps it picks up further down the road? That I do not know, but I do know that were I to carry on I think I would find myself not just disappointed, but sad that I wasted the hours of my life on a lifeless book.
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