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

Jeremy Bernstein in Inference Review:

512FB9hFmJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Enrico Fermi came to Harvard to give the Loeb Lectures in the fall of 1953. I was eager to meet him. I admired his work, of course, but I also thought there might be a distant family connection between us. My aunt had given me the impression that after Fermi’s arrival in the United States in 1939, she and members of the Fermi family had become the best of friends. When I ran into Fermi in the hallway of the Harvard physics building, I mentioned my aunt. Fermi gave me a chilly stare, and, without saying a word, walked away. Some years later, I described this encounter to someone who knew Fermi very well. He was not surprised.

During his visit, Fermi was persuaded to give an informal talk to a journal club formed under the guidance of Roy Glauber. Then a young assistant professor, Glauber would later win a Nobel Prize. He had gotten to know Fermi at Los Alamos during the war. I had hoped that Fermi would discuss the meson experiments being conducted at the University of Chicago. His talk went no further than describing an elementary problem in quantum theory. Most of us could have given the same lecture. With the exception of Paul Martin, we remained silent. Martin was the most brilliant of the graduate students; he objected to the approximations Fermi had made. Fermi gave a second lecture. Martin was still not satisfied. And a third. At that point, Martin gave up. Fermi would have continued until he had beaten Martin into submission.

Non simpatico.

The Pope of Physics is an account of Fermi’s life and times. Gino Segrè and his wife, Bettina Hoerlin, have written their account from the inside out; they knew a good many people who knew Fermi. Hoerlin’s father, Herman Hoerlin, worked with Fermi at Los Alamos, and Segrè’s uncle, Emilio Segrè, had been one of Fermi’s original collaborators in Rome. Both Segrè and Hoerlin could regard Fermi as a familiar presence.

More here.