I’ve got a ton of stuff that needs to get done this week, but I don’t want the blog to be completely devoid of new content, so here’s a quasi-poll question for my wise and worldly readers:
What scientist is most in need of a good popular biography?
By “popular biography,” I mean things like Norton’s Great Discoveries books, several of which Ive reviewed here, including Krauss on Feynman and Reeves on Rutherford, two books that I keep coming back to for useful tidbits. These aren’t deep works of historical scholarship, and don’t necessarily attempt to be definitive, but focus on being accessible and readable.
There are only a small number of these out there, though, and many important scientists don’t have this kind of bio yet. So, the question to be answered in comments is: who should get one of these sorts of books that doesn’t already have one?
I’ve been reading a lot of history of physics recently for the book-in-progress, specifically about the history of QED, and I think at this point, I’d probably vote for a Wolfgang Pauli biography. This may seem odd, as Pauli was a theorist’s theorist, who was so inept in the laboratory that some experimentalists once attributed a lab failure to the fact that Pauli was changing trains in their city at the time that their apparatus broke.
At the same time, though, the histories I’ve been reading put Pauli at or near the center of physics in the mid 20th Century– he contributed to all the major problems, and more importantly seems to have been a key communications nexus. Everybody working on quantum physics appears to have written to and gotten responses from Pauli. And he was pretty entertaining, in a witheringly sarcastic, quirky sort of way. The photo at the top, taken from Roy Glauber’s autobiography at the Nobel Prize website is a pretty good indication: Pauli was kicking a soccer ball around, and when he saw Glauber about to take a photo of this, he turned and kicked the ball directly into the camera…
So, I bet it’d be fun to read a good popular bio of Pauli. Somebody should get on writing one of those.
Who’s your favorite scientist who ought to get a good popular biography?