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Paperback Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics Book

ISBN: 0520208609

ISBN13: 9780520208605

Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics

(Part of the California Studies in the History of Science Series)

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Book Overview

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was a pioneer of nuclear physics and co-discoverer, with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, of nuclear fission. Braving the sexism of the scientific world, she joined the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry and became a prominent member of the international physics community. Of Jewish origin, Meitner fled Nazi Germany for Stockholm in 1938 and later moved to Cambridge, England. Her career was shattered when she...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Excellent birography of an excellent scientist !

Lise Meitner may not be particularly well known outside of scientific circles today, but the same could be said of a lot of other great scientists, mathematicians, etc...Anyway, she is one of my favorite scientists of all time. This book helped cement that for me... One of the reasons for her fame (or slight lack thereof) is that she never recieved the Nobel Prize for her nuclear work. It went to Otto Hahn. Had Lise shared in the prize, as many think she should have, she would almost certainly be better known today. I mean, the Nobel Prize sort of separates "known scientists" from "unknowns" as far as the general population is concerned (not counting popularizers like the late Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould). She was however, briefly famous in the US after WW2 as the "mother of the atom bomb" or some such - a title she rather disliked...In the late 1990s, the element 109 was named "Meitnerium" in her honor. And I beleive the element named for Hahn ("Hahnium"?) has been renamed something else. I won't go into the plot of the book since its a biography and we know about whom. I will say she faced huge obstacles in her life, most notably being a young female who desired a high education at the turn of the century (1800s-1900s I mean) and who managed to obtain it; also being a Jewess scientist during the Nazi takeover of Germany and Austria - this time as a middle-aged woman (almost 60), forced to rebuild her life. She perservered ! These obstacles are well documented and discussed in this excellent book. There is a brief but fascinating look into Vienna in the late 1800s that really enjoyed. It showed how the Meitners came to be in Vienna and what their world was like. I would have liked to have known more about her siblings, where they went and what they became (particularly her little brother Walter, who is tantalizingly mentioned several times as Lise's favorite - but no details are given. The two are buried near each other in Bramley, England). If there is a negative to the book, it is that there's a certain amount of strict science (numbers, math, sci-jargon, and calculations) in the book. BUT - don't let that turn you off ! I just skipped past those parts that were over my head, and focused on the "biographical" part - the parts about Lise herself, which in fact, make up the majority of the book. Author Sime made it easy to do that in the way she wrote the book. I highly recommend this work. I believe this will be the definitive Bio on Meitner, barring any unknown letters, secret love-child, or other stuff coming to light....Kudos to author Dr. Ruth Sime for the great work!

A Glimpse of a World We Hardly Knew

I first learned of Lise Meitner from a book on atomic energy when I was a kid. I remember the illustration of her and her lab partner Otto Hahn staring at an apparatus in which they discovered the tell-tale signs of radioactive fission. But when I went through science courses in high school and college, she was hardly mentioned. This book has put her in her rightful place in the history of the atomic age. While it is always easy for a biographer to skew the importance of the individual being chronicled, that is certainly not the case here. Given the obstacles placed in her path by her gender, her religious affiliations, and her citizenship, her story is all that more remarkable for a view of our world which has been papered over in the last half-century. That she would persevere despite everything is a testament to will and the desire for knowledge. Girls growing up in this day and age are not encouraged to pursue the scientific disciplines, but I think if a young girl today were to read Lise Meitner's story, she might just be inspired. I fully intend to give my copy to my daughter some day, in the hope of stirring a passion for science and the knowledge that if she applies herself, no matter the obstacles, she can become someone great.

A Sordid story of Racist and Sexist Finally Told

This is the story, well told, of one of the world's most important achievements by one of its finest scientific heroes who was forced to suffer the indignities of both racism and sexism. Against improbably long odds, beginning with her family who did not want her to become a Physicist, to Nazi persecution for being a Jew, to her eventual need to flee Nazi Germany to exile in Sweden, Lise Meitner's career progression led her to be among the logical choices to discover how to split the atom and to infer that it could lead to a chain reaction, and eventually to the development of the fissional atomic bomb. This gripping story tells of how her less able male colleague, Otto Hahn, a Nazi Chemist, rather than a Physicist, effectively stole her ideas and went on to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1944) for an achievement that should justly have gone to a Physcist, and Meitner in particular. In fact Hahn had no idea how to interpret the experimental data in his hand until Meitner, through correspondence from exile in Sweden interpreted it for him. Based on her continuous advice via mail, Hahn was eventually able to take credit for her ideas. And although this egregious error was never formally corrected, Meitner, with great dignity and strength remains larger than life and stands as a towering monument to what the human spirit can accomplish in the face of racism and chauvinism. Five stars.

a turbulent time

The times of Lise Meitner spans two World Wars, and the ensuing Cold War between the two super powers of the East and the West. Lise Meitner's career also spans some of the most fascinating developments of modern physics. As it happened, this includes the beginning of the nuclear age; and it continues with the age of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy resulting from pioneering and basic research into nuclear fission, started by the two Meitner and Otto Hahn. Lise Meitner was born in Vienna in 1878, and she started her career in the turbulent times of the First World War, at a time when Germany was a clear leader in physics research, in the Golden Era of physics. Yet, Lise Meitner was the first woman German scientist. When she started her studies, German universities were almost entirely closed to women; and especially so in the sciences. The author Ruth Sime paints a personal and a compassionate portrait of Lise Meitner, her life and her times; and she vividly brings to life the tragic events in our modern history which shaped Lise Meitner's turbulent career. A central theme in the book is the physics community's reaction to the first use by the USA of a fission bomb over Japan in 1945, (in fact it was two nuclear bombs, one was a Uranium bomb, and the other Plutonium.) In Berlin, building on a decade of research by Meintner and Otto Hahn, in 1938, the three Lise Meitner, Hahn, and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission. The Nobel Prize went to Hahn alone, and Lise Meitner has been largely forgotten. The book weaves together the individuals, their thoughts (through correspondence), their ambitions, and their flawed judgments. A part of the story is the ensuing events following the discovery of fission; events that were shaped largely by others than Lise Meitner. During the Second World War, Lise Meitner was a refugee in neutral Sweden. Since she was part Jewish, she had to flee for her life; flee what became Hitler's extermination machine. The racial laws began in the Third Reich with Hitler's dismissal in 1933 of university faculty with Jewish family tree, and it progressed to what we now know as the Holocaust. Many of the German scientists in the 1930ties were Jewish, or partly Jewish, and they were dismissed by Hitler in 1933, or in the years up to the war. The year before the outbreak of war in 1939 was the last chance to escape, and the entire physics community dispersed as German scientists had to flee, --- some chose to escape. A small number went to neutral Sweden, and others who had left earlier ended up in the USA, and became leaders in the Manhattan project, the secret Los Alamos team of scientists, led by Oppenheimer, the team which built the first atomic bomb. There were some German scientists, Otto Hahn among them who didn't have to flee. They included Lise Meitner's research collaborators, Hahn, and Strassmann, plus Max von Laue, Werner Heisenberg, and of course others. Lise Meitner never married, but was close t

Good History of Science

This was a highly readable and very accurate account of Meitner's life and work. It tells the story of the discovery of nuclear fission so that it is understandable to the layman. It also sets the record straight with regard to Meitner's very important contribution to the understand of the nucleus. Also of interest was the account of the interaction of Meitner, who was Jewish, with her German colleagues before, during and after the second world war.
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