The Pope of Physics Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2016-10-18
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

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Enrico Fermi is unquestionably among the greats of the world's physicists, the most famous Italian scientist since Galileo. Called the Pope by his peers, he was regarded as infallible in his instincts and research. His discoveries changed our world; they led to weapons of mass destruction and conversely to life-saving medical interventions.

This unassuming man struggled with issues relevant today, such as the threat of nuclear annihilation and the relationship of science to politics. Fleeing Fascism and anti-Semitism, Fermi became a leading figure in America's most secret project: building the atomic bomb. The last physicist who mastered all branches of the discipline, Fermi was a rare mixture of theorist and experimentalist. His rich legacy encompasses key advances in fields as diverse as comic rays, nuclear technology, and early computers.

In their revealing book, The Pope of Physics, Gino Segré and Bettina Hoerlin bring this scientific visionary to life. An examination of the human dramas that touched Fermi’s life as well as a thrilling history of scientific innovation in the twentieth century, this is the comprehensive biography that Fermi deserves.

Author Biography

Gino Segre is a professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a visiting professor at M.I.T. and Oxford, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department of the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of Theoretical Physics at the National Science Foundation. He is the author of three books of scientific history, Ordinary Geniuses, Faust in Copenhagen, and A Matter of Degrees.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Trinity 1

Part 1: Italy, Beginnings

1. Family Roots 7
2. The Little Match (Il Piccolo Fiammifero) 13
3. Leaning In: Physics and Pisa 18
4. Student Days 24
5. The Young Protégé 28
6. The Summer of 1924 35
7. Florence 41
8. Quantum Leaps 49
9. Enrico and Laura 56

Part 2: Passages

10. The Boys of Via Panisperna 65
11. The Royal Academy 70
12. Crossing the Atlantic 76
13. Bombarding the Nucleus 81
14. Decay 87
15. The Neutron Comes to Rome 93
16. The Rise and Fall of the Boys 102
17. Transitions 110
18. Stockholm Calls 116

Part 3: Hello, America

19. Fission 127
20. News Travels 135
21. Chain Reaction 144
22. The Race Begins 151
23. New Americans 159
24. The Sleeping Giant 167
25. Chicago Bound 176
26. Critical Pile (CP-1) 184
27. The Day the Atomic Age Was Born 193

Part 4: The Atomic City

28. The Manhattan Project: A Three-Legged Stool 201
29. Signor Fermi Becomes Mister Farmer 209
30. Götterdämmerung 219
31. The Hill 226
32. “No Acceptable Alternative” 234
33. Aftershock 244
34. Goodbye, Mr. Farmer 253

Part 5: Home

35. Physicist with a Capital F 261
36. The Fermi Method 268
37. The Super 275
38. Circling Back 283
39. Last Gift to Italy (Ultimo Regalo all’Italia) 291
40. Farewell to the Navigator 296

Afterword 303
Notes 309
Bibliography 326
Acknowledgments 334
Index 337

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