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Mother's influence on my relationships


Piaggio and school holidays
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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Another of the school prizes which I chose was Piaggio's [An Elementary Treatise On] Differential Equations, which was again an extremely useful book because it taught us about differential equations but with the help of a lot of exercises, so that every chapter had a huge list of exercises at the end which you had to go through if you really wanted to understand the stuff, which for me was just great because I can't learn without actually doing something myself. So I actually worked through this book in the school vacation. I did seven hundred of these exercises, working night and day all through the holidays and my mother was quite anxious about me, she thought I was becoming too deeply involved in this and she tried to persuade me that there were other things that I should get interested in life besides mathematics. But I was so passionately involved, so I continued until I got through the seven hundred exercises and then I listened to her.

[Q] And you went through the exercises while on vacation with them, on the sea shore?

Well, we had a little house, a summer house that my father actually had built, which was down on the south coast of England in a very muddy and secluded place. He liked to be alone because he was a composer and he didn't get much time to compose during the school terms, so the holidays were for him the main time when he could compose music and he needed really peace and quiet for that. So we had this very quiet and secluded time during the school holidays. And it was lucky for me that I had Piaggio to keep me happy. There wasn't much else to do at this little place on the sea shore, it wasn't a sandy beach, it was just mudflats. So it was the kind of place where crowds wouldn't be likely to come.

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: An Elementary Treatise On Differential Equations, UK, HTH Piaggio

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008