Harper & Row
This new book by a most distinguished scientist and writer is dedicated to diversity – in science and in life. Like Dyson’s two previous books, Disturbing the Universe and Weapons of Hope, it is a most rare treat, a combination of scientific knowledge and wonderful writing.
In celebrating the diversity of our world and ourselves, Dyson explores a rich range of subjects, organized, as he explains, in two parts: “Part One is about life as a scientific phenomenon, about our efforts to understand the nature of life and its place in the universe. Part Two is about ethics and politics, about the local problems introduced by our species into the existence of life on this planet.” Dyson continues: “The two parts are not entirely disconnected… I look both at scientific and at human problems from the point of view of a lover of diversity – the great gift which life has brought to our planet and may one day bring to the rest of the universe.”
The book is a generous rewriting of Dyson’s famous Gifford Lectures, a series that has produced several classic books, including William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience and Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality.
Here, surely, is another great book.
Freeman Dyson has been a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton since 1953. Born in England, he came to Cornell University as a Commonwealth Fellow in 1947 and settled permanently in the U.S. in 1951.
Professor Dyson is not only a theoretical physicist; his career has spanned a large variety of practical concerns. In World War II he worked for the Royal Air Force doing operations research. Since that time he has been unable to stop thinking about the great human problems of war and peace. Inside the U.S. government, he is been a consultant to the Defense Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Outside the government, he has spoken and written widely about the ethical dilemma of the nuclear age. In 1979 he published Disturbing the Universe, a scientific autobiography interspersed with meditations on the human condition. Weapons and Hope was another meditation, attempting to understand in greater depth that part of the human condition which involves nuclear weapons and nuclear strategies. Infinite in All Directions looks outward rather than inward, taking a worms-eye view of this odd universe which it is our fate to disturb.
In addition to his scientific work, Professor Dyson has found time for raising five daughters, a son, and a step-daughter.