The Fly in the Cathedral

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 - Science - 308 pages
3 Reviews
"Cathcart tells this exhilarating story with both verve and precision" --The Sunday Telegraph

Recreating the frustrations, excitements and obsessions of 1932, the 'miracle year' of British physics, Brian Cathcart reveals in rich detail the astonishing story behind the splitting of the atom. It was the most celebrated scientific experiment of its time, and would lead to one of mankind's most devastating inventions--the atomic bomb.

All matter is made mostly of empty space. Each of the billions of atoms which make it up is hollow, its true mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus which, if the atom were a cathedral, would be no bigger than a fly. Discovering its existence three quarters of a century ago was Lord Rutherford's greatest scientific achievement but even he caught only a glimpse. Almost at the point of despair, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, two young researchers in a grubby basement room at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, grappled with the challenge. Racing against their American and German counterparts-a colorful cast of Nobel prize-winners-they would change everything. With paper-and-pencil calculations, a hand-made apparatus, the odd lump of plasticine, and some revolutionary physics, Cockroft and Walton raised the curtain on the Atomic Age.

The Fly in the Cathedral is a riveting and erudite narrative inspired by the dreams that lead the last true gentlemen scientists to the very essence of the universe: the heart of matter.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - nosajeel - LibraryThing

A well researched, well told story of the Cavendish lab and the work that culminated in the discovery of the neutron and the splitting of the atom in the early 1930s. Experimentation gets short shrift ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - jasonlf - LibraryThing

A well researched, well told story of the Cavendish lab and the work that culminated in the discovery of the neutron and the splitting of the atom in the early 1930s. Experimentation gets short shrift ... Read full review

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About the author (2005)

A former reporter for Reuters and the Independent, Brian Cathcart is the author of: Test of Greatness: Britain's Struggle for the Atom Bomb, among other books. He lives in North London.

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