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Serving the Reich The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler by Philip Ball

Serving the Reich The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler

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Sue Baker's view...

Shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2014.

By concentrating on 3 physicists in particular, Peter Debye who left Germany for America in 1940, the older Max Planck and the ambivalent Werner Heisenberg Philip Ball portrays how these men pursued science decoupled from the reality of the Nazi regime To them the importance of their research and discoveries overcame everything especially with regard to the development of nuclear warheads - even after the war they seemed unable to admit what they had done. This is a fine study of the role of scientists under the Nazis, none of them ardent followers of Hitler but each avoiding the truth of their actions.

Like for Like Reading

Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact, John Cornwell

Hitler's Gift: The True Story of the Scientists Expelled by the Nazi Regime, Jean Medawar & David Pyke

If you like Philip Ball you might also like to read books by Guillermo Martinez.

Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Whilst many scientists fled the Third Reich in the 1930s and rebuilt their careers outside the Nazi state, others compromised or worked enthusiastically for the new regime. Philip Ball looks at some of the difficult moral choices forced upon Germany’s scientists, and their role in Germany’s new scientific order. Some kept their heads down; others became caught up in Hitler’s plans to be first to create an atomic bomb; whilst a handful rejoiced in the purging of Jewish science from central Europe. It is a reminder that science, however detached it wants to seem, can never be separated from society or ideology.
~ Jonathan North


Serving the Reich The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler by Philip Ball

Shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2014.

Serving the Reich tells the story of physics under Hitler. While some scientists tried to create an Aryan physics that excluded any 'Jewish ideas', many others made compromises and concessions as they continued to work under the Nazi regime. Among them were three world-renowned physicists: Max Planck, pioneer of quantum theory, regarded it as his moral duty to carry on under the regime. Peter Debye, a Dutch physicist, rose to run the Reich's most important research institute before leaving for the United States in 1940. Werner Heisenberg, discovered the Uncertainty Principle, and became the leading figure in Germany's race for the atomic bomb. After the war most scientists in Germany maintained they had been apolitical or even resisted the regime: Debye claimed that he had gone to America to escape Nazi interference in his research; Heisenberg and others argued that they had deliberately delayed production of the atomic bomb. Mixing history, science and biography, Serving the Reich is a gripping exploration of moral choices under a totalitarian regime. Here are human dilemmas, failures to take responsibility, three lives caught between the idealistic goals of science and a tyrannical ideology.


'The story is intriguing for it reveals the lack of insight of many of the world's greatest physicists' -- Robin McKie

'Observer Ball's book shows what can happen to morality when cleverness and discovery are valued above all else' -- Philip Maughan New Statesman

'Ball does an outstanding service by reminding us how powerful and sometimes confusing the pressures were... Packed with dramatic, moving and even comical moments' -- Robert P Crease Nature

'A new book from Philip Ball is always an eagerly anticipated event, but this one exceeds expectations' -- John Gribbin Literary Review

'Ball examines sensitively the careers of three eminent physicists who continued to work in Nazi Germany, emphasising the very different ways in which each dealt (or failed to deal) with the moral dilemmas of working in an increasingly oppressive state' -- Sir Michael Berry Times Higher Education

About the Author

Formerly on the staff of Nature, Philip Ball is now a full-time writer. He lives in London.

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Book Info

Publication date

9th October 2014


Philip Ball

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Vintage an imprint of Vintage Publishing


320 pages


Popular Science
The Real World
All Shortlists and Winners
eBook Favourites

History of science



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