## The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius A

Opportunity and luck bestow their benisons upon a once-in-a-generation genius, mathematical mystic, and one of the greatest theoretical physicists to have walked the planet.

You never hear of Dirac much^{1}. I read this article about him being in love and decided to read more about his life and work. This award-winning book came highly recommended. I enjoyed its breadth and depth thoroughly. I am a slow reader and was surprised by the speed at which I got through its heft: 625 pages^{2}! Farmelo expertly weaves world history, politics, religion, and humor into Dirac’s story. The epilogue spends some time conjecturing that he may have been autistic in a bid to explain his many eccentricities and severe taciturnity^{3}. *Lots* of painful family tragedy that was rather difficult to read. Intuition and Mathematical beauty were paramount to him:

If you are receptive and humble, mathematics will lead you by the hand. Again and again, when I have been at a loss how to proceed, I have just had to wait until [this happened]. It has led me along an unexpected path, a path where new vistas open up, a path leading to new territory, where one can set up a base of operations, from which one can survey the surroundings and plan future progress.

Here’s an *In Our Time* episode with Farmelo and two other physicists if you want to get a taste of what this excellent and riveting biography is about. I thought this description of Dirac by a young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who took Dirac’s Quantum Mechanics course at Cambridge four times in 1930 because it was “just like a piece of music you want to hear over and over again”) was rather funny:

“Dirac showed none of the confidence that might be expected of a young man at the top of his game. Chandrasekhar wrote home to his father that he was disappointed that Dirac did not show a bit more swagger: ‘[Dirac is a] lean, meek shy young “Fellow” (FRS) who goes slyly along the streets. He walks quite close to the walls (like a thief!), and is not at all healthy. A contrast to Mr Fowler […] Dirac is pale, thin, and looks terribly overworked.”

**Update**

Here’s a video of the author giving a presentation on Dirac and Mathematical Beauty