David KaiserNov 2, 2022
"Well, Doc, You're In"
Freeman Dyson’s Journey through the Universe
MIT Press 2022
Freeman Dyson (1923–2020)—renowned scientist, visionary, and iconoclast—helped invent modern physics. Not bound by disciplinary divisions, he went on to explore foundational topics in mathematics, astrophysics, and the origin of life. General readers were introduced to Dyson’s roving mind and heterodox approach in his 1979 book Disturbing the Universe, a poignant autobiographical reflection on life and science.
"Well, Doc, You're In": Freeman Dyson’s Journey through the Universe (MIT Press, 2022) (the title quotes Richard Feynman’s remark to Dyson at a physics conference) offers a fresh examination of Dyson’s life and work, exploring his particular way of thinking about deep questions that range from the nature of matter to the ultimate fate of the universe. The chapters—written by leading scientists, historians, and science journalists, including some of Dyson’s colleagues—trace Dyson’s formative years, his budding interests and curiosities, and his wide-ranging work across the natural sciences, technology, and public policy. They describe Dyson’s innovations at the intersection of quantum theory and relativity, his novel nuclear reactor design (and his never-realized idea of a spacecraft powered by nuclear weapons), his years at the Institute for Advanced Study, and his foray into cosmology. In the coda, Dyson’s daughter Esther reflects on growing up in the Dyson household. “Well, Doc, You’re In” assesses Dyson’s successes, blind spots, and influence, assembling a portrait of a scientist’s outsized legacy. Contributors: Jeremy Bernstein, Robbert Dijkgraaf, Esther Dyson, George Dyson, Ann Finkbeiner, Amanda Gefter, Ashutosh Jogalekar, David Kaiser, Caleb Scharf, William Thomas.
Matthew Jordan is a university instructor, funk musician, and clear writing enthusiast. He studies the history of science and technology, driven by the belief that we must understand the past in order to improve the future.