Richter's Scale: Measure of an Earthquake, Measure of a Man

Susan Elizabeth Hough, Author . Princeton Univ. $27.95 (335p) ISBN 978-0-691-12807-8

Hough's wooden biography of Charles Francis Richter (1900–1985), the Caltech seismologist who developed the eponymous Richter scale, which measures the magnitude of earthquakes, competently explains his scientific contribution, but veers toward willful conjecture about his personal life. The author, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, describes Richter as a talented but troubled man whose "complicated relationships with women began the day he was born." She speculates that his wife, Lillian Brand, who convinced him to join a nudist colony, may have been a lesbian and suggests the possibility of an incestuous attachment to his sister as well as extramarital affairs. Hough (After the Earth Quakes ) theorizesthat the trajectory of Richter's scientific career may have been driven in part by Asperger's syndrome, a disorder not officially recognized until after his death. The biography is stronger on the relevance of Richter's accomplishment in the field of earthquake research and on his professional interactions with other faculty at Caltech. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/30/2006
Release date: 01/01/2007
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