March 2, 2005
“The world is not ruled by reason; even less by love,” Max Born wrote to his close friend Albert Einstein in 1921. Twelve years later, as the Nazis forced him to emigrate to Great Britain, he felt the personal impact of that statement. Even after the defeat of the Nazis, the explosion of the atom bomb inflicted a further blow. It was a cruel twist of fate that Born, a pacifist who loved science for its beauty, had educated the developers of the atom bomb. Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner, and John von Neumann, among others, had flocked to Gottingen, Germany, to work with Born, the physicist who had discovered one of the most profound principles of the century – the physics of indeterminacy.
The End of the Certain World presents for the first time Born’s full story: Nobel physicist, a discover of quantum theory, exile from Hitler’s Germany, teacher of nine Nobel physicists. Born’s role in the “Golden Age of Physics” in the 1920s helped to shape the science of the twentieth century and open the door to the modern era. Together with his Wunderkinder – including his assistant Werner Heisenberg – Born solved the quantum puzzle. But whereas Heisenberg received his Nobel Prize in 1933, Born was overlooked; he had to wait more than twenty years to receive one.
When Born finally did win the Nobel Prize in physics in 1954, it was awarded for his theory of the indeterminate nature of the atomic world. It was a validation on more than one level. He had a long-standing debate with Einstein on the subject, and Born’s position – that God does play dice – had been recognized; we indeed live in a world of uncertainty.
The End of the Certain World is a social history and a history of science as well as an intimate biography. Nancy Thorndike Greenspan unfolds the story of a great physicist and humanitarian, to reveal his struggle with the forces of religion, politics, and war.
Nancy Thorndike Greenspan has published many articles and has co-authored three books with her husband, child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan. She spent the past four years gathering, translating, and cataloging documents from archives around the world for this book. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.