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Publisher's Summary

The definitive biography of the brilliant, charismatic, and very human physicist and innovator Enrico Fermi

In 1942, a team at the University of Chicago achieved what no one had before: a nuclear chain reaction. At the forefront of this breakthrough stood Enrico Fermi. Straddling the ages of classical physics and quantum mechanics, equally at ease with theory and experiment, Fermi truly was the last man who knew everything - at least about physics. But he was also a complex figure who was a part of both the Italian Fascist Party and the Manhattan Project, and a less-than-ideal father and husband who nevertheless remained one of history's greatest mentors.

Based on new archival material and exclusive interviews, The Last Man Who Knew Everything lays bare the enigmatic life of a colossus of 20th-century physics.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2017 David N. Schwartz (P)2017 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"A lucid writer who has done his homework, Schwartz...delivers a thoroughly enjoyable, impressively researched account.... Never a media darling like Einstein or Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) is now barely known to the public, but few scientists would deny that he was among the most brilliant physicists of his century.... A rewarding, expert biography of a giant of the golden age of physics." ( Kirkus)
"Told in a sure, steady voice, Schwartz's book delivers a scrupulously researched and lovingly crafted portrait of the 'greatest Italian scientist since Galileo.'" ( Publishers Weekly)
"One of the finest biographies of the year, The Last Man Who Knew Everything combines the historic, the scientific and the personal in a deft and effortless way. Enrico Fermi was easily one of the most fascinating human beings of the 20th century, a man whose intellectual brilliance was trapped inside an all-too-human shell. The result, in David Schwartz's able interpretation, is nothing short of spellbinding." (Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • John
  • Chamblee, GA, United States
  • 01-17-18

Good Book About An Important Scientist

This is a good book about a scientist who truly changed the world, Enrico Fermi. Sometimes called the father of the atomic age, he rose from a stable middle class environment in Rome--not a real hotbed of science at the time--to become one of the world's great physicists. This book presents a comprehensive treatment of his relatively short life (he died at 53).

This is a book that can be read a multiple levels. There is a certain level of science in it, but it would probably be overly simplistic for those who have studied physics. There are parts of it that are challenging for a non-scientist such as myself to follow in detail, but the author is really good at explaining the gist of why certain events are important. The story moves well and does not get bogged down, even though it is rather lengthy.

The book provides a very good study of the man. Fermi comes across as an outstanding colleague, particularly in his later years. He had many friends and admirers. He did not just plant himself in his laboratory. He insisted on having lunch (apparently for about two hours) each day with colleagues. He liked to hike and swim. He was quite athletic. He was a good husband, perhaps not as good a father, but rather typical for his time.

I think the book provides a good--and sympathetic--treatment of Fermi and the scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project. It is extremely easy to criticize them from the space of nearly 80 years. It must be remembered that most of the scientists had immigrated from a Europe dominated by Nazi Germany. Many had worked at German universities. Germany was the epicenter of physics in the 1930s. So they had personal knowledge of the abilities of German scientists, and considerable concern about them developing an atomic bomb. Einstein himself signed a letter to Roosevelt that led to the start of the project. The book covers all of this in great detail, and allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

The narration is very good. Definitely worth your time if you have any interest in the subject.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Anyone interested in modern day physics will enjoy this biography. Well written,extensively researched, and easy to understand even for the non-scientist

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Great book

Excellent overview of the the life of a great scientist. Better than the Pope of Physics book. Good discussion from primary sources.

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Great story

A little extra effort in researching the correct pronunciation of foreign names, locales, etc, would add to the listeners’ experience. Otherwise, well done! Commendable reading!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book, bad editing

What made the experience of listening to The Last Man Who Knew Everything the most enjoyable?

I enjoyed the book very much. The details about the Fermis, the speculation of the author is useful and guarded, and the narrator was nice. There was some bad editing or something which made the audio in the last part of the book jump repeat.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • PC
  • 02-11-18

The best scientific biography I've read

This is a most unusual biography, revealing so much about how physics and scientific research work and what it is like to participate.

It also accurately describes the unusual educational and research environment at the University of Chicago (my alma mater).

Highly recommended, without reservation.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great listen on the life of Enrico Fermi

I am not a physicist and therefore did not know his contributions prior to listening this book. It is a great listen to anyone who wishes to know his contributions to the field of physics. The narrator was great and this makes listening excellent. Many times I felt I was present as a witness to the events being described.

I would encourage anyone with interest in the biographies of scientists to hear / read this book. They will come away more informed and strengthened in their pursuit of excellence in science.

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Fabulous

One of the best books I have ever read and I am not a scientist or

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  • Fred
  • carson city, NV, United States
  • 03-07-18

Genious, exctiement, turmiol, real life

I feel like I know Enrico now. His excitement during the neutron experiments. His understanding the genie can never be put back into the bottle. His sacrifices, his families sacrifices. The state of the world, and the desperation to stop fascism that pushes a knowing, caring person, to help develop a nuclear bomb, even though they knew it could ultimately result in the end of the world, without overstating the magnitude of what they were doing.
Like the Curies' I feel sad for Enrico, for having to pay for their work with uranium.
I can not imagine a more fair look at a person's life than what Schwartz did with Enrico's.
This is a fine book.

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Hlangshur@sympatico.ca

One of the most gripping biographies I have read. Very well spoken.
A very strange omission by the author is the effect on the Ferris of the fate of Laura Fermi’s father.

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  • Brian
  • 02-23-18

Wonderful story- especially if you like physics

The book starts off a bit slow, but it tells in a very interesting way the fascinating story of the mind-boggling genius of Enrico Fermi. If you are a physicist or if you like physics this is a great addition to your understanding of the fascinating history of the development of quantum theory and nuclear physics. But even if you are not a physicist, it is a wonderful tale about a very impressive individual who does a lot of great things – very inspiring.