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For all the significance of his work, Sir Rudolf's achievements were shot through with irony.

A poetic and jargon-free textbook on theoretical physics is a surprise Christmas bestseller

For example, Sir Rudolph, who didn't become a naturalized British citizen until , turned to the comparatively innocent field of atomic physics only because as an enemy alien during the 's, he was barred from taking part in the top secret military research into radar. And when his own work helped create such a need for top scientists that the Government cleared other enemy aliens for his now highly sensitive project, one of his first recruits was Klaus Fuchs, the man who later gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

According to his son, Ronald, a computational mathematician at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, Sir Rudolph had developed a close personal relationship with Fuchs, and was prepared to understand his political treachery but could neither comprehend nor forgive the personal betrayal. Because of that association with Fuchs, Sir Rudolph was long suspected by the United States, which sometimes witheld visas he needed to attend international conferences. Sir Rudolph, a highly disciplined but gregarious man who was fond of puns, wrote several books, including "The Laws of Nature" , "Surprises in Theoretical Physics" , his autobiography, "Bird of Passage" , and "More Surprises in Theoretical Physics" Although he became a leader of a scientific arms control movement, Sir Rudolph always defended the use of the atomic bomb against Japan even though in their memo to British authorities, he and Frisch, who died in , suggested that because a "superbomb" would probably kill large numbers of civilians, it might be "unsuitable as a weapon for use by this country.

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Professor Peierls does not suggest, however, that theoretical physics is a hazardous game in which one can never foresee the surprises a detailed calculation might reveal. Rather, he contends, all the surprises discussed have rational explanations, most of which are very simple, at least in principle.

This book is based on the author's lectures at the University of Washington in the spring of and at the Institut de Physique Nucleaire, University de Paris-Sud, Orsay, during the winter of After he came to England on a fellowship in , he decided to stay because of the rise of Hitler. In he established the department of mathematical physics at Birmingham. Sir Rudolph returned to Birmingham after the war, shifted to Oxford in and then taught for three years at the University of Washington after his retirement in , won further acclaim as a teacher of a generation of physicists.

For all the significance of his work, Sir Rudolf's achievements were shot through with irony. For example, Sir Rudolph, who didn't become a naturalized British citizen until , turned to the comparatively innocent field of atomic physics only because as an enemy alien during the 's, he was barred from taking part in the top secret military research into radar. And when his own work helped create such a need for top scientists that the Government cleared other enemy aliens for his now highly sensitive project, one of his first recruits was Klaus Fuchs, the man who later gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.


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According to his son, Ronald, a computational mathematician at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, Sir Rudolph had developed a close personal relationship with Fuchs, and was prepared to understand his political treachery but could neither comprehend nor forgive the personal betrayal. Because of that association with Fuchs, Sir Rudolph was long suspected by the United States, which sometimes witheld visas he needed to attend international conferences.