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What did I win for coming top of the class?


Reading in Winchester College library
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I certainly read Jules Verne at the prep school. They had a quite decent library; although it was such a barbaric place, the library was good and I could always escape to the library, and so in a way the more barbaric it was, the better the library seemed to be. And so I read a lot of Jules Verne there, and they had a good encyclopaedia there which was actually a wonderful source of knowledge. I remember in the encyclopaedia there I learned about electrons and protons. They had an article about electrons and protons, and I was very frustrated because it turned out... I mean, they had this long article all about electrons and protons they told us everything about electrons and nothing about protons, and I decided right then that I should find out more about protons. I mean it was clear that in fact at that time almost nothing was known about protons, so that was clearly the way to go. So that came very early, that feeling that there was something unknown; that electrons were really to a great extent done and protons clearly were not. Which, of course, was true at that time. So that library had in it, certainly Jules Verne and probably - I don't know whether they had Wells, but certainly I discovered Wells pretty soon afterwards and I read the classic Wells books, Tono-Bungay and The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau, all these marvelous books which are great as literature as well as being...

[Q] imaginative

Well, rather mediocre science. I mean Wells was a far greater writer than he was a scientist.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Tono-Bungay, Jules Verne, HG Wells

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008