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A Brilliant Darkness The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age
Running Press Book Publishers / 2009 / Hardcover
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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 Majorana’s invaluable contributions to scienceincluding his major discovery, the Majorana neutrinowhile revealing the truth behind his fascinating and tragic life.
João Magueijo has taught at Cambridge University, Princeton University, and the University of California, Berkeley. He currently holds a Chair in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College, London. Author of Faster Than the Speed of Light, he lives in London.
Part mystery, part biography and part nuclear physics primer, Magueijos book takes readers through an investigation into the melodramatic life, work and bizarre disappearance of a troubled young physicist after he boarded a ship in Palermo on the cusp of WWII. A twisted prodigy raised by domineering parents, Majorana (born 1906) became one of the Via Panisperna boys, a group of raucous young physicists nurtured by fission pioneer Enrico Fermi. Majorana discovered a subatomic particle called the Majorana neutrino, but refused to publish any papers and so never got credit for his discovery. Magueijos examination of Majorana, aided by interviews with his living relatives, reveals a troubled, confounding man whose disappearance has inspired as many conspiracy theories as the Roswell incident. Whether Majorana committed suicide, joined a monastery, or ran off to Argentina, whether he deserves a Nobel Prize (if hes still alive somewhere) as Magueijo, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College, London (Faster than the Speed of Light), insists, its clear his life and approach to his work were both singular and outrageously strange. Photos, illus. (Dec.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
"Part mystery, part biography and part nuclear physics primer…. Magueijos examination of Majorana…reveals a troubled, confounding man whose disappearance has inspired as many conspiracy theories as the Roswell incident."
"[Magueijo] could have easily fallen into the jargon of his profession to describe the work of a fellow scientist, but he does not. His clear explanation of Majoranas insight into nuclear physics, often accompanied with drawings and illustrations, will appeal to a wide audience."
"A Brilliant Darkness excavates Majoranas troubled life, explaining his contributions to physics and uncovering new clues about his peculiar disappearance more than 70 years ago."
Booklist (starred review)
"Magueijo explains [Majoranas] scientific theories in mercifully simple terms. But what simple terms can illuminate a tortured and unstable personality, vulnerable to bouts of depression and prone to antisocial reclusiveness? The complexities of that personality resist assimilation into any of the standard explanations suicide, kidnapping, flight, monastic retreat for Majoranas disappearance. But astounded readers will thank Magueijo for his daring venture into the science and the psyche of a perplexing figure."
"A Brilliant Darkness interweaves explanations of Majoranas physics with his life story, and the result is an enlightening and strangely gripping journey into the heart of science and the minds of scientists.… This tale is about the journey, not the destination, and a trip through Majoranas life is a journey well worth taking."
"The latest thesis on the disappearance of physicist Ettore Majorana…reminds us of the Nobel-prizewinning quality of the discoveries he made during his brief career."
"[A] wonderful telling of the entire Majorana story…. Like a true scientist, Magueijo seems unsatisfied to hear from others what they believed happened to Majorana, so he goes in search of the truth himself…. Magueijo makes the story sound more like a gossip column than a history. Who says physicists cant stir up human emotion?"
"A Brilliant Darkness is not a traditional biography of Ettore Majorana…. The book offers good descriptions of basic nuclear physics, the positron, and Feynman diagrams. It also covers the physics of neutrinos in some depth."
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