Jermey N. A. Matthews in Physics Today:
Now 91 years old, mathematical physicist Freeman Dyson continues to churn out fresh opinions and original ideas. He is well known for his contributions to quantum electrodynamics and random matrix theory, among other things. However, he also expresses broad views and visions in book reviews and essays, including on topics as varied as space exploration, genetic engineering, and nuclear weapons.
Two collections of Dyson’s writings were released earlier this year, within a month of each other: Dreams of Earth and Sky (New York Review of Books, 2015) and Birds and Frogs: Selected Papers, 1990–2014 (World Scientific, 2015). “One of the joys of both books is the pleasure of getting to know Dyson better,” writes theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek in his review for this month’s issue of Physics Today. Dreams of Earth and Sky, geared for the general reader, is a selection of Dyson’s reviews for the New York Review of Books. The second offering, Birds and Frogs “is more varied and on the whole more technical,” writes Wilczek.
Physics Today caught up with Dyson recently to talk about his new books and about his views on current issues.
PT: What prompted you to assemble these two collections around the same time? And what's new or different about them?
DYSON: The simultaneous publication of the two books was unexpected and unplanned.Dreams of Earth and Sky is a collection of book reviews published by the New York Review of Books. It is a sequel to The Scientist as Rebel (New York Review Collections, 2006). Birds and Frogs is a collection of writings—everything except for book reviews—published by World Scientific. It is a sequel to an earlier volume of selected papers published by the American Mathematical Society.
PT: The reviewer highlights your appreciation for the virtues of blunders and of wrong theories. At what point in your career did you begin developing these appreciations?
DYSON: I did not think much about blunders and wrong theories until I read the books by Mario Livio (Brilliant Blunders, Simon & Schuster, 2013) and Margaret Wertheim (Physics on the Fringe, Walker Books, 2011) and wrote reviews of them. Writing reviews gives me a chance to think new thoughts and express new opinions. Sometimes the opinions are sincere and sometimes not. Reviews are intended to entertain as well as educate.