𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗮𝘁𝗼𝗺𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝗮𝗽𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝗛𝗶𝗿𝗼𝘀𝗵𝗶𝗺𝗮 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗡𝗮𝗴𝗮𝘀𝗮𝗸𝗶 𝘄𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝗻𝗼𝘁 𝘀𝗲𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝘆 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗴𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘀𝘆 𝗳𝗶𝗻𝗴𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗮 𝗴𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗹, 𝗯𝘂𝘁 𝗯𝘆 𝗮 𝗴𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗽 𝗼𝗳 𝗽𝗵𝘆𝘀𝗶𝗰𝗶𝘀𝘁𝘀 𝗮𝗿𝗺𝗲𝗱 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮 𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗳𝘂𝗹 𝗼𝗳 𝗲𝗾𝘂𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀.
A little over a decade ago, I abhorred learning physics’ laws and formulae. My lack of conceptual clarity only contributed to making the subject tedious. I carried this dislike with me into adulthood and found physics as rather ‘uncreative’. It honestly took me Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World to see it in a whole new light.
Labatut’s ingenious storytelling amalgamates fiction and non-fiction while exploring the Golden Age of Physics. It begins with the invention of cyanide which was consumed by Hitler and, currently, is responsible for countless deaths.
Labatut acknowledges the contributions of the world’s greatest minds under 180 pages. I am awed by how he weaves every invention/ discovery to the next anecdote. He recalls the contributions of Karl Schwarzschild, Shinichi Mochizuki, Fritz Haber, Werner Heisenberg and many more.
While the scientific world (and humanity, in general) remains indebted to these creators, their bouts of insanity are little known. The author muses over the cost most of them paid to unveil their inner genius
Today, we have inferred the workings of everything from a colossal star to an infinitesimal atom. However, at the time, these wondrous yet fundamental equations were devised precisely, without witnessing the particle itself. Labatut fantastically writes not only about discovery but also the cynical environment that led to its creation. For example, Erwin Schrödinger in his feverish trance scribbled the speed of subatomic particles. After gaining consciousness, he could barely interpret his theories.
These vivid stories sear in readers’ minds, with imagination bringing them to life. Led by ambition, these men saw things beyond ones visible to the human eye. Can these creations become monstrous to the world which we already inhabit?