Zwicky: The Outcast Genius Who Unmasked the Universe

Harvard Univ. Sept. 2019. 336p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780674979673. $35. SCI
While he may not be as widely known as his contemporaries Edwin Hubble and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Zwicky (1898-1974) made significant contributions to the field of astrophysics that are as important today as they were in the mid-20th century. Former Los Angeles Times science writer Johnson paints a colorful portrait of the imaginative Swiss scientist who often rankled his peers with his cantankerous, combative personality. Acclaimed for his discovery of supernova and his prediction of the existence of neutron stars, Zwicky, the author explains, taught at the California Institute of Technology and created an extensive catalogue of galaxies. By using archival material, diaries, and interviews, Johnson provides details about the astrophysicist’s childhood, education, love of skiing, and later domestic life. He also reveals that Zwicky had many interests beyond studying the stars at the university’s Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories, such as developing advances in jet propulsion technology that were critical in boosting the U.S. air power during World War II.
VERDICT This accessible biography of the quirky astrophysicist Zwicky and the equally quirky world of cosmic rays, exploding stars, and dark matter will intrigue lay readers and serious science professionals alike.

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