cover image Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy

Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy

Frank Close. Basic, $29.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-465-06998-9

When Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo (1913–1993) disappeared in 1950, everyone believed he had fled to the U.S.S.R. to escape the fate of physicist Klaus Fuchs, arrested earlier that year “for passing atomic secrets” to the Soviets. Five years later, Pontecorvo surfaced in Moscow, explaining that he had moved to escape persecution for antiwar views and that his work had no military applications. Proof that Pontecorvo spied remains elusive, but Close, a professor of physics at Oxford, delivers an intensively researched, engrossing biography that turns up some suspicious behavior and mildly incriminating documents. Pontecorvo was a science prodigy who studied under Enrico Fermi in Rome, contributing to Fermi’s 1938 Nobel–winning studies on neutron bombardment of the atomic nucleus. In 1936 he joined the Paris laboratory of Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, where he enhanced his reputation, absorbed their left-wing views, and joined the Communist Party. Work on various projects brought him to the U.S., Canada, and finally Britain before his disappearance at the height of Cold War spy hysteria. Whether or not he was a spy, he was undoubtedly a brilliant scientist. Close serves Pontecorvo well in this outstanding biography, illuminating his work as well as the painful political conflicts of his time. [em]Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville & Walsh. (Feb.) [/em]