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A Brilliant Darkness: The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Ageby Joao Magueijo
Synopses & Reviews
On the night of March 26, 1938, nuclear physicist Ettore Majorana boarded a ship, cash and passport in hand. He was never seen again. In A Brilliant Darkness, theoretical physicist João Magueijo tells the story of Majorana and his research group, the Via Panisperna Boys,” who discovered atomic fission in 1934. As Majorana, the most brilliant of the group, began to realize the implications of what they had found, he became increasingly unstable. Did he commit suicide that night in Palermo? Was he kidnapped? Did he stage his own death?
A Brilliant Darkness chronicles Majoranas invaluable contributions to science—including his major discovery, the Majorana neutrino—while revealing the truth behind his fascinating and tragic life.
Book News Annotation:
In Italy today theoretical physicist Ettore Majorana has become the subject of science fiction, comic books and conspiracy theories. Magueijo (theoretical physics, Imperial College, London) has long been almost obsessed with the life and enigmatic vanishing of this brilliant, troubled young man. He feels that Majorana should have won the Nobel Prize for his work on the neutrino. This biography explains the physics that Majorana was working on in clear simple terms, but the emphasis of the story is on the man. Ettore was clearly brilliant and also unstable. He irritated and antagonized many, but much toleration is given to geniuses who produce results. In the spring of 1938, as he was about to start a term of teaching in Naples, Ettore vanished. He wrote what might have been suicide notes or not, boarded a boat in Palermo and was never heard from again although some thought they had spotted him in the following months. Magueijo follows the clues that indicate that the physicist might have joined a monastery, but finds nothing definite. He does believe that the crisis that led Ettore to disappear was linked to an understanding of the ramifications of his work on subatomic particles. The story reads like a psychological thriller (with Prachett-esque footnotes). It is easy to understand why it has haunted Magueijo for so long. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
One of the greatest mysteries of twentieth-century science: a tormented genius discovers a key element of atomic fission, then disappears forever
About the Author
João Magueijo is a lecturer in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London, where he was for three years a Royal Society Research Fellow. He has been a visiting researcher at the University of California at Berkeley and Princeton University, and received his doctorate in Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University. Magueijo was featured in a British television documentary, "Einstein's Biggest Blunder," which was broadcast last year. Visit the author's website at http://theory.ic.uk/~magueijo/.
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