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

by Philip Ball

eBooks of the Month Popular Science The Real World

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

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 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.

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

'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

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780099581642
Publication date: 09/10/2014
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780099581642
Publication date: 9th October 2014
Author: Philip Ball
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 320 pages
Genres: eBook Favourites, Popular Science, The Real World,
Categories: History of science,

About Philip Ball

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

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