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While that's a tremendous book, especially in the first 300 or so pages on the history of nuclear physics there's also a tremendous amount of fluff/noise, like paragraphs about the village where Lise Meitner and her nephew and fellow atomic physicist Otto Frisch were doing their Christmas vacation when she was the first to receive from her friend and former colleague Otto Hahn his stunning radiochemistry results proving the fission of uranium.

That was just the most outrageous example, but there are plenty more. But as far as I know it's the best book on the subject, and as "Luc" says in the other comment right now in this subthread, he doesn't oversimplify the science.

If you like that, for more of the same without a lot of fluff I'm finding The Magic Furnace by Marcus Chown to be wonderful, it's is a history of the elements. How we deduced the very existence of atoms thousands of years ago, then generally much more recently their nature, then how they came to come about (e.g. fusion in stars). Truly fantastic and rather tightly written, the fluff about the philosophers and scientists is generally only a sentence or three.

If you like both of those, as I recall, haven't read it since the '80s, George Gamow's 30 Years That Shook Physics ought to fill out the rest of the basic picture, focusing more on our friends the electrons, which is where almost all the action in chemistry happens, that's something these other two books don't cover in as much detail as the nucleus.

I think a lot of what you call fluff/noise was the author's attempt to show the humanity of scientists who some readers might misidentify as gods on earth. I absolutely agree it can sometimes be tedious but I don't think it was just padding to make the already 900+ page book longer.

I don't think he padded the book, but I otherwise have difficultly explaining why he included those vacation location paragraphs. They didn't humanize Meitner and Frisch, or otherwise add to the story; yeah, they were walking in the snow when they came to the big conclusions (and Meitner's encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant physics facts was truly amazing), but no more than one setting paragraph was needed, and a couple of sentences would done in this place.

It wasn't like e.g. the Cambridge labs where so many critical experiments were done with such simple apparatus ... which got if anything less coverage outside of describing the experiments.

I suppose he found the story he told about the village too neat not to include in the book, but he or his editor should have had a little more restraint, it's pure noise. I shudder at imagining the size of the original manuscript....

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