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Rutherford - Simple Genius
David Wilson

The MIT Press 1983
ISBN 0-262-23115-8
639 pages.
Hard Cover.
14 black/white photos on 8 plates.

Purchasing Details.
Out of Print

My Comments on This Book
David Wilson was a (the?) pioneer science correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) TV and had written four previous books which popularised science.

Not surprisingly, he was the first person to make use of the BBC archives. He also discovered that the widow of Albert Wood lived not far from him, so he had access to a unique archive of Rutherford's work on the acoustical methods of detecting submarines during the First World War.

This is a very comprehensive coverage of Rutherford's work and life after he left New Zealand, the most detailed of any of Rutherford's biographies. For that I highly commend this book.

However I cannot recommend it for events prior to Ern's departure. When I reviewed the book (generally good) I had to condemn this era as an example of the folly of using secondary sources.

As I am acknowledged as having helped on the New Zealand side I should explain. David first contacted me about 1978 for information. I sent him various information and emphasised several serious points, in particular that Rutherford's first research was actually published in his second research paper. I even stayed with David one night in England to emphasis this point. So it was galling to read (p604) that he has to ``thank Dr Campbell, of Canterbury College (sic), for the first glimmering of the idea that the time order of the work should be reversed.'' I had told him emphatically that this was so.

For someone who never set foot in New Zealand to comment (p61) ``It is impossible to determine with any precision what Rutherford himself was doing in New Zealand meanwhile.'' and (p61) ``The difficulty of tracing his movements continues throughout that last New Zealand winter.'' is just plain deceitful and highly misleading. Any student of those times knows that newspapers published lists of the passengers on every ship entering port, of train passengers and of newcomers to city hotels. And there is a wealth of other archival material available to assist such a search.

I made an offer to cast my eye over the New Zealand section and David said he would take this up but he never did. Having since had deadlines of my own I now have more sympathy for his omission which resulted in two flawed chapters.

David died in 2000. There was an excellent obituary of him in The Guardian 19th Sept 2000.

Errors Noted.
Of the New Zealand section p17 has 14 errors or points which require further discussion. Admittedly that is the worst page but if you are interested in Rutherford's life before he left New Zealand then it is best to refer to my own books, Rutherford's Ancestors and Rutherford Scientist Supreme.

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Contents

Introduction and Acknowledgements

5

Contents

9

Illustrations

11

Chapter
1 New Zealand Education

13

2 First Research

50

3 The Wide, Wide World

63

4 Science in Cambridge

87

5 Radioactivity

130

6 Life in North America

166

7 Last Years in Canada

193

8 Starting in Manchester

216

9 Science International

238

10 The Atom

268

11 The Atom in Action

308

12 Rutherford at War

339

13 The Atom is Smashed

386

14 Cambridge and the Cavendish

406

15 Politics and Power

453

16 Kapitsa

496

17 Final Triumphs

538

Epilogue

601

Notes and Sources

603

Bibliography

621

Index

626

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Reviews

New Zealand

Technology and Culture Jan 1985 John Campbell

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