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A force of nature : the frontier genius of Ernest Rutherford

by Richard Reeves

  Book : Biography  |  1st ed

A force of nature: the frontier genius of Ernest Rutherford   (2012-01-06)

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by wppalmer

A review of `A force of nature: the frontier genius of Ernest Rutherford' (Great Discoveries Series), by Richard Reeves, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc of London in 2008.

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer

This is an excellent short biography of Ernest Rutherford by Richard Reeves. There are other more complete accounts of Rutherford's life, but this book strikes a fair balance between being comprehensive and keeping an interesting storyline. The book deals with both the science of Rutherford's discoveries entwined with more general biographical information about his character, relations with other scientists and his family life. The information about his birth on 30th August, 1871 in Brightwater, near Nelson, his schooling and early career is sparse, but tells a coherent story. There is only about half a page (p. 54) on his marriage to his wife, Mary and the birth of his daughter, Eileen Mary. Eileen's premature death (pp. 137-138) in 1930 is mentioned as a source of enormous sorrow to Rutherford and as a start of his decline in his scientific work. Rutherford's death was cased by an unfortunate accident, a fall from a low branch when trimming trees on 19th October 1937.

The story of the science of the gradual discovery of the inner workings of the atom in most of which Ernest Rutherford featured prominently was well explained. I like the emphasis that Reeves gives to the enormous amount of hard work that Rutherford put in, in order to make his discoveries. It is for young people to know that scientific success is only obtained through hard work, even to the very gifted. Although Rutherford is shown to be impatient and ill-tempered at times, the narrative indicates that his discoveries were made in collaboration with colleagues. I think that Reeves may have included largely positive quote about Rutherford whereas C P Snow is not always a Rutherford enthusiast. The only error that I could find was that Rutherford and Moseley came to Australia to attend an `Australian Royal Society meeting' (p. 94) This was, in fact the joint meeting of the BAAS and ANZAAS (The British and Australia/ New Zealand Associations for the Advancement of Science) held in 1914.

The book has good black and white photographs with 177 pages of text, adequate notes and an index. Reeves also weaves in stories of other scientists known to Rutherford and this adds considerable richness to the text. Thoroughly recommended!!

BILL PALMER




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