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No Time to be Brief. A scientific biography of Wolfgang Pauli. By C. P. Enz

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No Time to be Brief
A scientific biography of Wolfgang
Pauli. By C. P. Enz.
Oxford University
Press, Oxford 2002.
viii + 573 pp.,
£ 35.00.—ISBN
Of course, anyone interested in quantum mechanics knows the Pauli exclusion principle (discovered in 1925, honored by the Nobel Prize in 1945) and
the Pauli spin matrices. He or she may
have heard about the famous 1933 article “Die allgemeinen Prinzipien der
Wellenmechanik”, which is regarded as
one of the profoundest accounts of this
field, but which has the reputation that
it is particularly recommended for
those readers who know everything
already. Beyond this, Wolfgang Pauli
(1900–1958) features in innumerable
anecdotes, in which he appears as a scientist who is sharp-minded, but somewhat odd in his behavior, and highly
polemical. A famous example is the
“second Pauli principle” (also called
the Pauli effect), according to which a
physical experiment is bound to fail if
W. Pauli is nearby. So one looks forward
to reading a new biography, written by
C. P. Enz, who was Pauli's assistant
during the last two years of the scientist's life. He was actually chosen,
shortly after Pauli's death, by his
widow Franca (1901–1987) as an authorized biographer. Since then some time
has elapsed.
The evolution of Pauli's intellect and
personality clearly did not proceed in a
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2004, 43, 1457 – 1458
synchronous way. This explains his
somewhat odd behavior, and helps one
to understand the author's observation
that neither personal events nor world
politics had any noticeable influence
on his scientific work. As a consequence
of this, there is hardly any interplay
between the scientific and the personal
track of this book.
The author9s main concern is without doubt the “scientific track”, which
he presents as a kind of history of quantum theory with Pauli in the center. This
automatically pushes other protagonists,
not so much Heisenberg, but others such
as Dirac, to the periphery. This biography is filled with mathematical equations like a textbook. The reader is
assumed not only to have a sound background knowledge, but also to work
hard in order to follow the author's
arguments. Maybe the latter should
have asked himself which type of
reader he had in mind, and should also
have given the answer in the introduction. He will probably already lose a
large part of his audience in Chapter 2,
where he discusses, with great admiration, the review by the 20-year-old
Pauli on the theory of relativity in the
Enzyklopdie der mathematischen Wissenschaften. A reader not familiar with
general relativity will be completely
left behind. There is no indication that
this topic will be taken up in later chapters.
Unfortunately, topics that are of no
more than historical interest (e.g., studies within the “old” quantum theory)
are treated at the same length as questions of fundamental importance.
Often the contemporary nomenclature
is used, rather than that which is current
now. This makes it difficult to even recognize well-known things. It might have
been generally advisable to leave the
historical context and to argue in
modern terms. Rather than presenting
Pauli's derivation of the eigenvalue
spectrum of the hydrogen atom from
Heisenberg9s matrix mechanics in the
original form, and complaining that the
group theoretical apparatus, which
would have simplified everything, was
not then available, one might as well
have given the derivation in the form
that is now possible. Nevertheless,
some sections are exciting to read, for
example, that on the story of electron
spin, where Pauli's role was both constructive and destructive. At first he
strongly rejected ideas of colleagues,
but later adopted them himself.
It was a good idea to quote and discuss not only Pauli's publications, but
also the correspondence that preceded
them. Unfortunately, all quotations
have been translated into English
rather than being the German original,
and so lose both their authenticity and
their charm. It would have been better
to give the English translations in an
Even the genuinely biographical
part mixes important and irrelevant
things (for example, who wants to
know the salaries of Pauli9s assistants
at the ETH ZArich?). It is only a slight
exaggeration to say that Pauli's life is
presented as a sequence of anecdotes,
even when it comes to serious events
such as his emigration to the USA and
what preceded it. The reader is not
given a picture of a living person with
whom one could identify. Who is going
to be sympathetic with Pauli, when he
suffers from the anomalous Zeeman
effect? Allusions to Pauli9s predilection
for night-life are frequent, but so shameful that the reader can hardly accompany Pauli to St. Pauli in Hamburg or
to ZArich by night.
On page 240 one reads about a personal crisis of Pauli in his first ZArich
period, which gave rise to a psychoanalytical treatment by C. G. Jung, and
which ended with Pauli's marriage to
Franca Bertram. If one is curious about
details of this couple, one must probably
read the novel “Gerufen und nicht gerufen” by K. Guggenheim (Benzinger,
ZArich, 1973), which is often cited, and
in which Pauli and Franca appear with
other names. One meets C. G. Jung
again on page 463, where one learns
that Pauli, now in a way a disciple of
Jung, searches for interconnections
between physical theories, Jung's archetypes, and his own dreams, also taking
into account the wisdom of J. Kepler.
One may admire the wealth of incorporated material, the careful documentation of all sources, and the fact that
all subsidiary persons (who, by the way,
almost constitute a “Who9s Who?” of
20th century physics) are presented
together with their c.v. The strength of
the book—which makes it a useful
. 2004 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
source of references—is at the same
time its weakness. The title of the
book, No Time to be Brief, probably
characterizes it unintentionally. If the
author, rather than striving for encyclopedic completeness, had concentrated
on the really essential aspects, perhaps
on Pauli's scientific legacy, and contented himself with, say, one-third of
the present size, he might have succeeded in presenting a scientific biography that one would enjoy reading, and
which would enable a nonexpert to
understand why Pauli is regarded as
one of the most important physicists of
the 20th century. That is achieved by
the book An den Grenzen des Denkens
by E. P. Fischer (Herder, Freiburg,
2000), a work that deserves to be translated into English.
Werner Kutzelnigg
Lehrstuhl f7r Theoretische Chemie
Universit9t Bochum (Germany)
DOI: 10.1002/anie.200385069
Magick, Mayhem, and Mavericks
The spirited history
of physical chemistry. By Cathy Cobb.
Prometheus Books,
New York 2002.
420 pp., hardcover
$ 29.00.—ISBN
Cathy Cobb bubbles with enthusiasm in
the urge to share her appreciation of the
historical development of physical
chemistry. She starts with the ancient
Greeks, who dabbled with aspects of
what was to become physical chemistry,
takes us through the emergence of the
modern version of the subject with the
investigators of the gas laws and the
atomic theory, and brings us bang up to
date with modern applications of this
richly varied subject with an account of
its applications to biological phenomena
and its elucidation, we all hope, of the
nature of life.
The book starts off with an account
of very early science, although I think
the inclusion of Aristotle stretches the
frontiers of the subject rather severely.
What we modern scientists recognize
as our subject does not really enter the
discussion until about page 133, with
Dalton and the growth of confidence in
the concept of the atom that occurred
during the nineteenth century. Truly
modern physical chemistry emerged in
the late nineteenth century with the formulation of thermodynamics, and in the
early twentieth century with the emergence of quantum theory. The author
treats these at reasonable length and
with lucidity, although I did find a
number of occasions where her grasp
of the concepts was unconvincing. The
fifth part (of about 150 pages) is an
interesting account of the struggles that
the early physical chemists had to identify the origin of chemical affinity, misguidedly looking for the analogue of
Newton's gravity to account for the tendency of substances to “gravitate”
chemically towards each other and to
form new compounds. The final part is
a short introduction to where physical
chemistry is now heading, with signposts
urging it towards biology, nonlinear
dynamics, and nanotechnology.
The style throughout is enthusiastic.
In some respects, although it might seem
churlish to say so, that is a problem. I
found myself wondering who would be
interested in an engagingly lighthearted, but necessarily quite technical,
account of physical chemistry. I doubt
whether the general reader would want
to know this amount of detail about
such a recondite subject, and a professional chemist (who would certainly
find much to enjoy in these pages, and
also learn a lot) does not need the
rather low level of exposition. So, there
remains a concern that the target audience is either unclear or doesn't exist.
. 2004 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
But if it does exist, then this book will
give much pleasure.
I did, however, have some problems
with the exposition. The author is fond
of analogies. These may work in a class
environment and add sparkle to a lecture, but I found some of them irksomely forced and complicated, and
sometimes more confusing than the concept they were being used to present.
The explanation of the black-body distribution law in terms of a field full of
cups in a rainstorm was particularly
bizarre and unhelpful (p. 231).
There are also a number of slips:
Bohr was not German (p. 248), there is
a confusing presentation about the composition of probabilities (which should
have been expressed in terms of amplitudes) in the discussion of bonding
(p. 257), and an erroneous statement
about exchange energy on the same
page. On page 138 it is implied that
hydrogen is a component of air, and
Henry's law is referred to as a truism
(p. 142), which it certainly is not. On
the following page (p. 143) readers will
be puzzled by the confusion between
heat capacity and thermal conductivity,
a mistake repeated on page 150 in a different context. I am not at all convinced
that Newton regarded his third law as “a
statement of his intuitions regarding the
conservation of energy”, particularly
because the concept of energy did not
enter physics until more than a century
However, despite these slips and
confusions the book is a good, lively
read. It will give pleasure to those who
already know some physical chemistry
and who would like to know more
about the personalities involved. Like
all books of this general kind, it will
prove to be a good source of anecdotes
for presentations.
Peter Atkins
Lincoln College
University of Oxford (Great Britain)
Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2004, 43, 1457 – 1458
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