Enrico Fermi: The Last Man Who Knew Everything

Chad Orzel in Forbes:

A long time ago, when I was around the age my kids are now— so if you were to ask them, that’d put it well after the dinosaurs but slightly before woolly mammoths— I had to write a book report about a biography. For whatever reason, I ended up picking Enrico Fermi, a scientist who was featured in exactly one book in the elementary school library, a choice that maybe foreshadowed my eventual career. A few details of that have stuck with me ever since: Fermi getting reprimanded by Oppenheimer for taking bets on whether the Trinity test would ignite the atmosphere, Fermi estimating the size of the blast by dropping pieces of paper, and, weirdly, Fermi mocking signs with Fascist slogans back in Italy by shouting “Burma Shave!” when driving past them (probably because I had to get my parents to explain the joke). I was a little hazy on what, exactly, he contributed to physics, but he definitely made an impression as both an important scientist and a colorful character.

Possibly because of that long-ago assignment, “Popular biography of Fermi” has long been on my mental list of potential future book projects. So I was mildly disappointed a few years ago when I learned that David Schwartz had written The Last Man Who Knew Everything: The Life And Times Of Enrico Fermi, Father Of The Nuclear Age (only mildly, because it’s a long list of potential projects).

More here.