The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge

Cathcart tells this exhilarating story with both verve and precision The Sunday Telegraph Re creating the frustrations, excitements, and obsessions of , the miracle year of British physics, Brian Cathcart reveals in rich detail the astonishing story behind the splitting of the atom The most celebrated scientific experiment of its time, it would lead to one of mankind s most devastating inventions the atomic bomb All matter is made mostly of empty space Each of the billions of atoms that comprise it is hollow, its true mass concentrated in a tiny nucleus that, if the atom were a cathedral, would be no bigger than a fly Discovering its existence three quarters of a century ago was Lord Rutherford s greatest scientific achievement, but even he caught only a glimpse Almost at the point of despair, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, two young researchers in a grubby basement room at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, grappled with the challenge Racing against their American and German counterparts a colorful cast of Nobel Prize winners they would change everything With paper and pencil calculations, a handmade apparatus, the odd lump of plasticine, and some revolutionary physics, Cockroft and Walton raised the curtain on the atomic age The Fly in the Cathedral is a riveting and erudite narrative inspired by the dreams that lead the last true gentlemen scientists to the very essence of the universe the heart of matter The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom

About the Author: Brian Cathcart

Brian Cathcart is a journalist by background, having worked for Reuters, the London Independent papers and the New Statesman, and he is now professor of journalism at Kingston University London Some of his books including The Case of Stephen Lawrence, which won the Orwell Prize and a CWA Gold Dagger have grown out of news and journalism others such as The Fly in the Cathedral reflect his love of history His latest, The News From Waterloo, combines the two Cathcart is also a campaigner, having co founded Hacked Off in 2011 to make the case for a free and accountable press He is married with grown up sons and lives in London, where he feeds the birds in the garden and from which he escapes occasionally to walk the Pennine Way.

10 thoughts on “The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom

  1. says:

    Got this book at a bargain price at a book fair and took me long enough to actually read it It was hard to get past some of the scientific details especially the description of the apparatus and machines and sometimes my thoughts wandered off to another universe The first half took all the willpower I had to plod on, which is a testimony to my ever decreasing attention span than the quality of th

  2. says:

    This book is a perfect example of why I love nonfiction Cathcart found an exciting and concise thread to follow to tell the story of the Cambridge scientists who helped open the door to nuclear physics, in particualr the two men who first split an atomic nucleus in a measurable way This was an achievement that can be said to have changed the world.The author does a brilliant job of describing the ci

  3. says:

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here This was quite the enjoyable book about many of the scientists and physics engineers who worked on figuring out how the center of an atom works and the mystery that we now know as a neutron I hadn t realized some of our common x ray, nuclear medicine, and radiology machines were already starting to be developed and thought

  4. says:

    I was a 16 year old teenager fascinated by physics who knew nothing about nuclear physics and it s research when I got this book as a gift from a freind who knew I loved biographies and science Skip to few months later, I was 16 and a half year old girl who understood the basics of nuclear physics and it s foundation This story got me so interested in the wolrd of nucleus and atoms that I found myself goi

  5. says:

    A worthy addition to science history with glimpses into the lives of the first atomic physicists The goal is to recount the big picture of what it took for the British to win the race to smash the atom.

  6. says:

    Interesting, but maybe a bit too lengthy

  7. says:

    John Banville, writing in the Guardian, described Cathcart s book as unemphatic and, while perhaps it s not as phlegmatic as that might suggest, The Fly in the Cathedral or the gnat in Albert Hall, as Rutherford put it is a good solid account of the 1932 splitting of the atom.The aspect of the book I found most interesting were the descriptions of working life at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, headed up Ernest R

  8. says:

    A well researched, well told story of the Cavendish lab and the work that culminated in the discovery of the neutron and the splitting of the atom in the early 1930s Experimentation gets short shrift in histories of science as compared to theory, but Ernest Rutherford is as interesting as just about any theorist and using a simple apparatus to essentially visualize the atom itself as Rutherford did in his scattering

  9. says:

    The title refers to the nucleus of an atom, which is so small in comparison with the atom, that it is like a fly in a cathedral.The book is an enjoyable history of the early days of nuclear physics roughly 1900 to 1932, told from the perspective of the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University The high point of the story is the experiment in 1932 which for the first time split an atomic nucleus and released the energ

  10. says:

    I found the beginning and the end of this book to be absolutely fascinating The middle 60% of the book was important, to have a full understanding of the story, but slightly boring I also respect the authors caution in describing the temperament of these scientist Some of them seemed to have a very bad rep, but the sources of these rumors were brought into focus A clear sign of honest journalism.

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