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Piaggio and school holidays

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Snobbery and the class system
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I was really very lucky. Of course I hated the class, well, the snobbery of the place. It was a very, very intensely intellectual place and there was in an intense intellectual snobbery there and a social snobbery as well. I mean we were all essentially middle class kids and we looked down not only at the working class, we looked down at the business class as well. In England the antagonism has always been very strong between the intellectual middle class and the business middle class. That's one of the causes of social problems in England. It's probably why Margaret Thatcher was always so down on the universities, because she came from the business middle classes. But in any case, we were in this very narrow intellectually snobbish surroundings, and surrounded with high medieval walls, literally, and so I always felt an intense hatred for the system, although I loved a lot of the people and I loved the life in the college, but nevertheless I had a very bad conscience about it and wanted to tear it down and let in some daylight from outside. So I always had this very ambivalent feeling about it. I hated a great deal of this sort of "old school tie" atmosphere that surrounded it, and I found only about fifty years later I've started to lose this hatred for it because, I mean, I've just become mellowed with time.

Born in England in 1923, Freeman Dyson 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 has published several books and, among other honours, has been 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: Margaret Thatcher

Duration: 1 minute, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008