True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen: The Only Winner of Two Nobel Prizes in Physics

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9780309084086: True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen: The Only Winner of Two Nobel Prizes in Physics

What is genius? Define it. Now think of scientists who embody the concept of genius. Does the name John Bardeen spring to mind? Indeed, have you ever heard of him?

Like so much in modern life, immediate name recognition often rests on a cult of personality. We know Einstein, for example, not just for his tremendous contributions to science, but also because he was a character, who loved to mug for the camera. And our continuing fascination with Richard Feynman is not exclusively based on his body of work; it is in large measure tied to his flamboyant nature and offbeat sense of humor.

These men, and their outsize personalities, have come to erroneously symbolize the true nature of genius and creativity. We picture them born brilliant, instantly larger than life. But is that an accurate picture of genius? What of others who are equal in stature to these icons of science, but whom history has awarded only a nod because they did not readily engage the public? Could a person qualify as a bona fide genius if he was a regular Joe?

The answer may rest in the story of John Bardeen.

John Bardeen was the first person to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes in the same field. He shared one with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for the invention of the transistor. But it was the charismatic Shockley who garnered all the attention, primarily for his Hollywood ways and notorious views on race and intelligence.

Bardeen's second Nobel Prize was awarded for the development of a theory of superconductivity, a feat that had eluded the best efforts of leading theorists -- including Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Richard Feynman. Arguably, Bardeen's work changed the world in more ways than that of any other scientific genius of his time. Yet while every school child knows of Einstein, few people have heard of John Bardeen. Why is this the case?

Perhaps because Bardeen differs radically from the popular stereotype of genius. He was a modest, mumbling Midwesterner, an ordinary person who worked hard and had a knack for physics and mathematics. He liked to picnic with his family, collaborate quietly with colleagues, or play a round of golf. None of that was newsworthy, so the media, and consequently the public, ignored him.

John Bardeen simply fits a new profile of genius. Through an exploration of his science as well as his life, a fresh and thoroughly engaging portrait of genius and the nature of creativity emerges. This perspective will have readers looking anew at what it truly means to be a genius.

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From the Inside Flap:

"John Bardeen was one of the most important and prolific physicists of the twentieth century, on par with the likes of Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, but the general public hardly knows his name. In this eloquent and entertaining biography, Lillian Hoddeson captures the true essence of this quiet, gentle genius."
-- Michael Riordan, author of The Hunting of the Quark and coauthor of Crystal Fire

"If we agree that science literacy is key to the 21st century, then True Genius is one of the most important books of our times. Hoddeson and Daitch have created a masterpiece of biography, illuminating the creative work of a scientific genius, but also the human values, strengths and qualities that must guide, moderate and ultimately determine the fruitfulness of the extraordinary mind."
-- Leon M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate, author of The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? and co-author of From Quarks to the Cosmos: Tools of Discovery

"A sensitive and inspiring portrait of one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. This excellent biography should redefine what it means to be a genius."
-- Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II

"An easy-flowing personal and scientific biography of John Bardeen, who arguably was the most important American physicist. His transistor started modern electronics, the basis of modern technology. Subsequently, he explained superconductivity, a problem which had baffled many other famous physicists."
-- Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University

"A quiet revolutionary in science was John Bardeen, reticent, deep, intuitive--and a formidable subject for a biographer. Now his science and his personality have been thoughtfully, knowledgeably, lovingly opened up."
-- Horace Freeland Judson, author of The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology

About the Author:

Lillian Hoddeson is a professor of history and a senior research physicist at the University of Illinois, where she teaches the history of science.

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