The Recollections of Eugene P. Wigner

Front Cover
Springer US, Jan 1, 1992 - Science - 335 pages
Eugene P. Wigner, indisputedly one of the world's greatest physicists of the twentieth century, recounts the breathtaking story of his singular life. Dr. Wigner's wining of the Nobel Prize crowned a lifetime of achievements in physics - achievements that profoundly affect our understanding of science today. His enormous contributions to the Manhattan Project and his insights into quantum physics stand as hallmarks of his incomparable talent. But equally important are his musings on his long and uniquely fascinating life. This memoir, a fruitful collaboration between Eugene Wigner and writer Andrew Szanton, reveals a story by turns endearing, painful, and ultimately triumphant. A witness to many of the changes of the twentieth century, Wigner grew up amid the political turmoil of Hungary. He later experienced the Berlin of the early 1930s as Hitler rose to power. During World War II, he took an active role in the Manhattan Project, the building of the world's first atomic bomb. In his recollections, he conveys the exultation of observing the first successfully controlled nuclear chain reaction. Eugene Wigner's friends and acquaintances comprise a Who's Who of twentieth-century scientists, and the book is replete with their vivid, candid, and amusing portrayals. Having enjoyed many years working with Albert Einstein, he paints an engaging portrait of that most famous of geniuses. He also sketches distinctive pictures of the trio of his fellow Hungarians: Leo Szilard, one of the first men to dream seriously about the atom bomb; Johnny von Neumann, perhaps the greatest mathematician of the century; and Edward Teller, the prime architect of the hydrogen bomb. This is the first major bookever written about Eugene P. Wigner. It makes a significant contribution to the history of the Manhattan Project and to the history of nuclear physics. But in a much larger sense, physics is only its backdrop. The real story is that of an extraordinary man and his unforgettable life.

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A veteran of the Smithsonian's oral-history program on the Manhattan Project, Szanton brings an educated focus and a writer's sensitivity to these expertly shaped memoirs, based on over 30 interviews ... Read full review

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About the author (1992)

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Paul Wigner earned a Ph.D. in engineering in Berlin in 1924. During the 1930s he became one of a group of Hungarian scientists who left Europe and settled in the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1937. Married three times (his first two wives died), Wigner has two children. From 1935 to 1937, Wigner served as visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin, an experience that inspired in him a deep love for his adopted country. He then moved on to Princeton University (where he was named Thomas D. Jones Professor of Mathematical Physics in 1938) and began an association that lasted the remainder of his career. While at Princeton, Wigner played a major role in persuading the U.S. government to establish the Manhattan Project. Wigner has been called one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century as a result of his contributions to many fields of physics and his profound influence on the field. His pioneering application of group theory to the atomic nucleus established a method for discovering and applying the principles of symmetry to the behavior of physical phenomena and earned him a Nobel Prize in 1963 (a prize he shared with Maria Goepert Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen). Although he won the Nobel Prize for his work in nuclear physics, Wigner's contributions are not limited to this area. For example, he and Pascal Jordan published an important basic paper in field theory. And his definitive work with Victor Weisskopf on the relationship between line shape and transition became an integral part of theoretical physics. Moreover, with his student Fredrick Seitz, Wigner also contributed substantially to solid-state physics.

Andrew Szanton is a freelance writer and teaches Life Writing: Memoir and Personal Prose for the Harvard University Extension School. He is the authof or The Recollections of Eugene P. Wigner as told to Andrew Szanton and Have No Fear: The Charles Evers Story.

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