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Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler

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Published by Bodley Head, part of Vintage Publishing

Format: Hardback


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EAN: 9781847922489
Published: 10 Oct 2013


About the book


Serving the Reich tells the story of physics under Hitler. While some scientists tried to create an Aryan physics that excluded any ‘Jewish ideas’, many others made compromises and concessions as they continued to work under the Nazi regime. Among them were three world-renowned physicists:

Max Planck, pioneer of quantum theory, regarded it as his moral duty to carry on under the regime.

Peter Debye, a Dutch physicist, rose to run the Reich’s most important research institute before leaving for the United States in 1940.

Werner Heisenberg, discovered the Uncertainty Principle, and became the leading figure in Germany’s race for the atomic bomb.

After the war most scientists in Germany maintained they had been apolitical or even resisted the regime: Debye claimed that he had gone to America to escape Nazi interference in his research; Heisenberg and others argued that they had deliberately delayed production of the atomic bomb.

Mixing history, science and biography, Serving the Reich is a gripping exploration of moral choices under a totalitarian regime. Here are human dilemmas, failures to take responsibility, three lives caught between the idealistic goals of science and a tyrannical ideology.

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What the critics say

Ball's book shows what can happen to morality when cleverness and discovery are valued above all else
- New Statesman

Ball does an outstanding service by reminding us how powerful and sometimes confusing the pressures were… Packed with dramatic, moving and even comical moments
- Nature

A fascinating account of the moral dilemmas faced by German physicists working within Nazism. Impeccably researched
- Tablet

An engrossing and disturbing book
- History Today

[A] fine book
- Times Literary Supplement

The story is intriguing for it reveals the lack of insight of many of the world’s greatest physicists
- Observer

A new book from Philip Ball is always an eagerly anticipated event, but this one exceeds expectations
- Literary Review

Ball examines sensitively the careers of three eminent physicists who continued to work in Nazi Germany, emphasising the very different ways in which each dealt (or failed to deal) with the moral dilemmas of working in an increasingly oppressive state
- Times Higher Education

Asks important questions, not just about 20th-century German science but about the nature of science and the response of scientists to the political world we perforce inhabit. All scientists should read and ponder its contents
- Times Higher Education

Ball’s judgements are well reasoned, nuanced and, in my view, fair
- Guardian

This is an exploration of morality and human dilemmas under a totalitarian regime
- Daily Express

It is a reminder that science, however detached it wants to seem, can never be separated from society or ideology
- Good Book Guide

Ball’s real interests lie elsewhere, in what he calls the ‘grey zone between complicity and resistance’. It is one of the strengths of Serving the Reich that in surveying this territory the analysis is not unduly flattering to the moral and political certainties of the present
- Jonathan Derbyshire

Helps us to appreciate better the contribution of other physicists during the war
- Guardian

About the Author

Philip Ball is a freelance writer and a consultant editor for Nature, where he previously worked as an editor for physical sciences. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and his many books include Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another (winner of the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books), The Music Instinct, Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People and, most recently, Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything.

Philip Ball

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