The book “The Last Man Who Knew Everything” is an extraordinary tale of Enrico Fermi, the scientist “who knew everything about physics, the study of matter, energy, time, and their relationship.” The scientist was an elusive character never media savvy like Einstein or Oppenheimer and was barely known to people but it could said without fear of contradiction that he was one of the most brilliant physicists of his century.
Fermi was well known for his lucid presentation of his ideas and looked to have taken pains to come to grip with his subject. The author, whose father won a Nobel Prize in Physics, has written a very readable account of the life of Fermi. Hailing from middle class background in Italy Fermi was a child prodigy. His academic life was characterized by excellent grades and he voraciously read all books on physics and mathematics.
The Last Man Who Knew Everything
Fermi’s professional career began when he led a team of dedicated and brilliant scientists who put Italy at the centre stage of physics. He explained the weak interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, and perfected neutron bombardment of atomic nucleus which produced artificial radioactivity and ultimately nuclear fission and atomic bomb.
He was awarded Nobel Prize in physics in 1938 that made him to quit the fascist Italy and shift to the US. In America he indicated that neutrons from uranium fission would lead to a chain reaction releasing enormous energy. He proved his thesis in 1942 by building the first atomic reactor. He was given responsibility of managing a section of Manhattan project which produced atom bomb.
Fermi remained active in his field till his premature death at the age of 53. The author says that Einstein only theorized, Ernest Lawrence only built machines and experimented but Fermi excelled at both besides being a superb teacher held in reverence by his students. He was a very straight individual and very little is known about his private life. The Weekender