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Heisenberg in the Atomic Age Science and the Public Sphere by Cathryn Carson

Heisenberg in the Atomic Age Science and the Public Sphere

Part of the Publications of the German Historical Institute Series

RRP £25.99

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Heisenberg in the Atomic Age Science and the Public Sphere by Cathryn Carson

The end of the Second World War opened a new era for science in public life. Heisenberg in the Atomic Age explores the transformations of science's public presence in the postwar Federal Republic of Germany. It shows how Heisenberg's philosophical commentaries, circulating in the mass media, secured his role as science's public philosopher, and it reflects on his policy engagements and public political stands, which helped redefine the relationship between science and the state. With deep archival grounding, the book tracks Heisenberg's interactions with intellectuals from Heidegger to Habermas and political leaders from Adenauer to Brandt. It also traces his evolving statements about his wartime research on nuclear fission for the National Socialist regime. Working between the history of science and German history, the book's central theme is the place of scientific rationality in public life - after the atomic bomb, in the wake of the Third Reich.


'In this deeply researched and imaginatively conceived book, Carson authoritatively delineates Werner Heisenberg's influential role in the shaping of West Germany, integrating his engagements in politics, physics, and culture and revealing how his vision was shadowed by the history of the Third Reich. A must read for anyone interested in Heisenberg the man and the reconstruction of his country during the postwar years.'
Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University

'Heisenberg in the Atomic Age is a brilliant interpretation of the co-evolution of the scientist-intellectual and the public sphere in postwar West Germany. Historians have for decades examined Werner Heisenberg's path-breaking contribution to quantum mechanics and debated his scientific and moral roles in the Third Reich where he directed Germany's ill-fated atomic bomb project. Cathryn Carson is the first to examine in detail Heisenberg's equally important public role after 1945 when physics and politics mixed in a volatile combination over the issue of nuclear power, both civilian and military. At a time when the philosopher Jurgen Habermas was articulating his notion of the public sphere, Heisenberg's public discourse helped to shape how reason could be used to express dissent in West Germany's new parliamentary democracy. Written with elan and elegance and based on meticulous research and eye-opening interviews, Carson's refreshing study is required reading for anyone interested in postwar politics and society.'
Kathryn M. Olesko, Georgetown University

'Heisenberg in the Atomic Age is a remarkable book: authoritatively informative, deeply insightful, impressively erudite and sensitive, yet readily accessible. It offers wide-ranging new perspectives on Heisenberg and on the foundations and evolution of his physics, philosophy, politics and persona; on the culture, politics and science of pre and post World War II Germany; and on the atomic age and its intellectual-cultural battles. Altogether it sets new standards for biographical writing.'
Silvan S. Schweber, Harvard University

'Cathryn Carson has written a scientific and intellectual biography of Werner Heisenberg in the postwar age that complements and supplements David Cassidy's path-breaking work. Carson's methodological approach, and in particular her use of the concept of the 'public sphere,'
is innovative and persuasive. Both the organization of the book and its prose are clear and straightforward, which make the book accessible. However, her intelligent and subtle analysis, argument, and use of sources are also intellectually challenging

Mark Walker, Union College

'Carson succeeds magnificently in interrelating the scientific persona of the most famous physicist in post-war Germany with his role in the process of reshaping German science and society for a democratic political order. Heisenberg is a landmark study in how scientists can and should participate in building the Habermasian public sphere of rational discussion and critical reflection.'
Norton Wise, University of California, Los Angeles

About the Author

Cathryn Carson is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Office for History of Science and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is co-editor, with David A. Hollinger, of Reappraising Oppenheimer: Centennial Studies and Reflections and chair of the editorial board of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences.

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Book Info

Publication date

14th April 2014


Cathryn Carson

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Cambridge University Press


566 pages


European history
20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000



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