Bernstein, Jeremy. Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

 

Bernstein, Jeremy. Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Here is yet another anthology of Bernstein's essays on science, 16 essays. Some of the inclusions
are old friends (Cosmology, Three Degrees Above Zero: which tell the absurd tale of Herman
and Alpher, and also point to Hawking's ignoring their contribution, just as Alpher said he did).

There is a piece on Alan Turing, "A Portrait of Alan Turing," (pp. 92-102) which makes several
important points. The essay is an evaluation of Andrew Hodge's Alan Turing: The Enigma,
which makes the important point that nagged at me when I read Hodges' book: "The intrusion of
the question of Turing's homosexuality into areas where it seems to have no relevance threatens
to capsize Hodge's fine book - to turn it from a biography into a political tract. Hodge identifies
himself, in an author's note, as a member of the London Gay Liberation Front. He sees Turing -
rightly - as someone who, if he was not driven to his death by public revelation of his
homosexuality, had much of the last part of his life destroyed by the consequences of that
revelation." (p. 94) And I for one found Hodge to have gone over the line and made his
biography a political tract.

Continuing: "Be this as it may, what possible relevance to this discussion does Turing's
homosexuality (or, for that matter, his atheism) have? Was it supposed to confer an intellectual
handicap on him, which impressed by the fact that Turing was both a homosexual and a
computer designer? This sort of reference to Turing's sexuality seems to me both gratuitous and
demeaning. Turing lived under an outmoded legal and moral code, and the temptation for
Hodges to turn his book into a political statement must have been great indeed. His account of
the facts of Turing's life - of what he suffered as a homosexual in a hypocritical society - is
eloquent. The biography would have been an even more powerful statement, however, it had left
more unsaid." (pp. 99-100)

In Bernstein's "Cosmology," (pp. 82-91), is very, very clear that Stephen Hawking did, at least in
the first edition of A Brief History of Time, slight Alpher and Herman. It's very clear and this is
the way that Bernstein tells it: "Hawking's retelling of this tale denies Alpher - and, more
important, Herman - the proper credit for a major discovery in theoretical physics.

So it is clear that Ralph Alpher was correct when he blasted Hawking for his selective telling of
the tale.

In another essay, "Merely Personal," (pp. 122-132), Bernstein examines the spate of "personal
biographies which appeared after Watson's The Double Helix. Bernstein feels that these personal
documents were spawned by Watson and he specifically mentions: Salvador Lauria, A Slot
Machine, A Broken Test Tube (which identifies Watson's book as its stimulus) and Richard P.
Feynman's book, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. He finds these books to be of a sort
composite of those of the purely professional biography as written by, for example, Albert
Einstein.

Two books identified as "...I think there are some examples from the recent literature where both
the Scylla of the ‘merely personal' and the Charybdis of the totally impersonal have been
avoided... Hackers by Steven Levy and The Periodic Table by Primo Levi.

Finally, in "Who Was Christy Mathewson?" Bernstein evaluates Stephen Jay Gould's
Mismeasure of Man. It's a very favorable review as well it ought to be.