What is genius? Define it. Now think of scientists who embody the concept of genius. Does the name John Bardeen spring to mind? Indeed, have you ever heard of him?
Like so much in modern life, immediate name recognition often rests on a cult of personality. We know Einstein, for example, not just for his tremendous contributions to science, but also because he was a character, who loved to mug for the camera. And our continuing fascination with Richard Feynman is not exclusively based on his body of work; it is in large measure tied to his flamboyant nature and offbeat sense of humor.
These men, and their outsize personalities, have come to erroneously symbolize the true nature of genius and creativity. We picture them born brilliant, instantly larger than life. But is that an accurate picture of genius? What of others who are equal in stature to these icons of science, but whom history has awarded only a nod because they did not readily engage the public? Could a person qualify as a bona fide genius if he was a regular Joe?
The answer may rest in the story of John Bardeen.
John Bardeen was the first person to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes in the same field. He shared one with William Shockley and Walter Brattain for the invention of the transistor. But it was the charismatic Shockley who garnered all the attention, primarily for his Hollywood ways and notorious views on race and intelligence.
Bardeen's second Nobel Prize was awarded for the development of a theory of superconductivity, a feat that had eluded the best efforts of leading theorists -- including Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Richard Feynman. Arguably, Bardeen's work changed the world in more ways than that of any other scientific genius of his time. Yet while every school child knows of Einstein, few people have heard of John Bardeen. Why is this the case?
Perhaps because Bardeen differs radically from the popular stereotype of genius. He was a modest, mumbling Midwesterner, an ordinary person who worked hard and had a knack for physics and mathematics. He liked to picnic with his family, collaborate quietly with colleagues, or play a round of golf. None of that was newsworthy, so the media, and consequently the public, ignored him.
John Bardeen simply fits a new profile of genius. Through an exploration of his science as well as his life, a fresh and thoroughly engaging portrait of genius and the nature of creativity emerges. This perspective will have readers looking anew at what it truly means to be a genius.
Named to CHOICE Magazine's 40th annual Outstanding Academic Title list
Named One of the Best Intellectual Reads of 2002 by the Times Higher Education Supplement
Named to Science Books & Films 2003 Best Books List
Silver Medalist in Biography, ForeWord Magazine's 2002 Book of the Year Award
"True Genius gives an insightful and warm account of the scientific and personal life of this remarkable man. ... The book contains a collection of wonderful stories of how genius and humility can be combined to produce remarkable results. ... I recommend this book as a joyous read."
-- J. Robert Schrieffer, Physics Today, February 2003
"...those who are curious about what happens in the real world of science will find Hoddeson and Daitch's carefully researched account of Bardeen's life and science of great interest. ... their account is enlivened by many anecdotes. ... The book succeeds best in the authors' descriptions of the two great scientific achievements... In all, True Genius is a detailed and animated rendering of Bardeen's life and science."
-- Science, March 21, 2003
"True Genius accounts with empathy and enthusiasm the rich and varied career of a remarkably creative scientist who is little known... a work of thorough scholarship..."
-- American Scientist, March-April 2003
"I strongly recommend this biography, not only for the clear picture it gives of Bardeen in the context of his family, friends and colleagues, but also for its analysis of the roots of scientific creativity and genius."
-- New Scientist, September 21, 2002
"...the authors' admiration and affection for their subject illuminates the biography. At the same time, they bring readers with varied levels of expertise to a real understanding of the complex workings of science as they are actually experienced by those of us who do it."
-- Nature, December 5, 2002
"This book is an inspiring and exciting read that can be recommended to layman and scientist alike. It is an affectionate and accurate picture of John Bardeen and portrays science not as a dry isolated pursuit but as an activity of people with the usual prejudices, rivalries, friendships, camaraderies and concern for recognition. ... It is a model scientific biography."
-- The Times Higher Education Supplement, March 7, 2003
"...an engrossing account... I found this account of Bardeen's life to be thoroughly researched, well written, and sprinkled with interesting anecdotes. ...I would recommend this book as an absorbing read for scientists and nonscientists alike."
-- Materials Today, June 2003
"Lillian Hoddeson and Vicki Daitch mostly get John Bardeen right, which makes the book a great read and a valuable contribution to the history of present-day physics."
-- Physics World, May 2003
"Without dumbing it down, Hoddeson and Daitch treat the physics like an adventure story, full of alluring mystery, high-stakes competition, turbulent rivalry and inspiring teamwork. ... skillfully narrated ..."
-- Cityview, October 18-24, 2002
"Written for a popular rather than scholarly audience, Hoddeson and Daitch focus on the man and his accomplishments rather than the intricacies of his science; i.e., you don't have to be Einstein to understand what they're saying."
-- Concord Monitor, January 12, 2003
"...a useful account of his work. ... The chapter on the development of the transistor at Bell Labs is especially clear and informative. By telling the story of this invention in a way one suspects it might have happened, one learns more than many textbook pages can ever convey."
-- 21st Century Science & Technology, Summer 2002
"This intriguing book is a must read... The details covering [Bardeen's] personal and professional life provide a fascinating insight into a true genius. ... The authors had the support of Bardeen's wife and family in the project, which adds to the richness of the content."
-- IEEE History Center newsletter, March 2003
"The authors share a number of golden nuggets regarding Bardeen. ... The bibliography is especially rich and useful while the notes and references to the interviews are exemplary..."
-- Semiconductor International, January 2003
"...a meticulously researched recreation of the life and scientific career of John Bardeen... It captures very well the heritage, values, passions, and personality of its hero. It also provides a broad yet detailed view of his scientific creations. ... As a portrait of the human side of a great innovator, the book is an unqualified success. ...fascinating and informative reading..."
-- Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, March 2004
"...the biographers have succeeded in creating an interesting narrative out of Bardeen's life; not an easy task given that Bardeen was a quiet family man. Colour is provided through the extensive use of anecdotes culled from the authors' many interviews with colleagues and with kith and kin, and to a lesser extent archival material."
-- The British Journal for the History of Science, June 2004
"True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen biographically documents the life and work of this fascinating and modest man (for years, his long-time golf partners had no idea what he did for a living). ... With this very readable biography, the authors lay out an excellent case for remembering John Bardeen as a True Genius."
-- QST Magazine, November 2004
"I knew John Bardeen for 40 years (as my teacher, friend, colleague) and still I learned something further from Hoddeson and Daitch and the material they unearthed for True Genius, a fascinating biography (a different kind of story). Hoddeson and Daitch do not disappoint in their biography of Bardeen and in elucidating over many chapters his kind of genius... Genius is a diamond of many facets, and Hoddeson and Daitch reveal a Bardeen facet. ...all the chapters, that reveal an American hero---if you will, a genius."
-- Nick Holonyak, Jr., John Bardeen Chair Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, University of Illinois
"John Bardeen was one of the most important and prolific physicists of the twentieth century, on par with the likes of Niels Bohr and Richard Feynman, but the general public hardly knows his name. In this eloquent and entertaining biography, Lillian Hoddeson captures the true essence of this quiet, gentle genius."
-- Michael Riordan, author of The Hunting of the Quark and coauthor of Crystal Fire
"If we agree that science literacy is key to the 21st century, then True Genius is one of the most important books of our times. Hoddeson and Daitch have created a masterpiece of biography, illuminating the creative work of a scientific genius, but also the human values, strengths and qualities that must guide, moderate and ultimately determine the fruitfulness of the extraordinary mind."
-- Leon M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate, author of The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? and co-author of From Quarks to the Cosmos: Tools of Discovery
"A sensitive and inspiring portrait of one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. This excellent biography should redefine what it means to be a genius."
-- Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
"An easy-flowing personal and scientific biography of John Bardeen, who arguably was the most important American physicist. His transistor started modern electronics, the basis of modern technology. Subsequently, he explained superconductivity, a problem which had baffled many other famous physicists."
-- Hans Bethe, Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University
"A quiet revolutionary in science was John Bardeen, reticent, deep, intuitive--and a formidable subject for a biographer. Now his science and his personality have been thoughtfully, knowledgeably, lovingly opened up."
-- Horace Freeland Judson, author of The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology
"The authors share a number of golden nuggets as regards Bardeen; the bibliography is especially rich and useful, while the notes and references to the interviews are exemplary..."
-- History of Physics Newsletter, February 2003
"It accomplishes what it set out to do -- explore the thinking of one man."
-- Current Science, December 2003
"Hoddeson and Daitch focus on Bardeen's science, but intersperse discussions of his personal and family life. ... Rather than spend time explaining the physical concepts involved or the scientific context of discussion, the authors merely but clearly enunciate Bardeen's and his colleagues' approaches. Readers with a good understanding of physics will follow the text quite readily, while others will grasp the thrust of the research method and the general strategy."
-- Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 2004
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