Bones of Berdichev: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman

John Garrard, Author, Carol Garrard, With Free Press $27.5 (464p) ISBN 978-0-684-82295-2
Einstein called her ""our Marie Curie,"" and at the end of WW II, newspapers dubbed her ""the Jewish mother of the atomic bomb."" But Lise Meitner (1878-1968), the first woman in Germany to hold the title ""professor,"" notes the author, never practiced the Jewish religion and steadfastly refused to have anything to do with the bomb. Yet her work in physics, in collaboration with chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann at Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, laid the theoretical groundwork for the discovery of atomic fission. At the height of their common effort in 1938, tantalizingly near their goal, Meitner was forced to flee Germany, where she'd worked since arriving from her native Vienna in 1907, to lonely exile in Sweden. There she watched Hahn take sole credit for discovering fission; he alone received the Nobel Prize for their joint effort. Sime (A Gift from Heaven), using archival sources including many unpublished, dramatically lays bare the Nazi efforts, abetted after the war by Hahn and other members of the German scientific establishment, to obliterate Meitner's preeminence in 20th-century physics. This meticulously researched biography goes a long way to restoring it. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
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