excerpts from E=mc^2 a biography of the world's most famous equation by David Bodanis
"Einstein explained his theory to me every day," Weizmann said, "and soon I was fully convinced that he understood it." (Chaim Weizman on trying to understand the theory of relativity even with Einstein himself as the teacher)
Faraday's limited formal education, curiously enough, turned out to be a great advantage. This doesn't happen often, because when a scientific subject reaches an advanced level, a lack of education usually makes it impossible for outsiders to get started. The doors are closed, the papers unreadable. But in these early days of understanding energy it was a different story. Most science students had been trained to show that any complicated motion could be broken down into a mix of pushes and pulls that worked in straight lines. It was natural for them, accordingly, to try to see if there were any straight-line pulls between magnets and electricity. But this approach didn't show how the power of electricity might tunnel through space to affect magnetism.
Because Faraday did not have that bias of thinking in straight lines, he could turn to the Bible for inspiration. The Sandemanian religious group he belonged to believed in a different geometric pattern: the circle. Humans are holy, they said, and we all owe an obligation to one another based on our holy nature. I will help you, and you will help the next person, and that person will help another, and so on until the circle is complete. This circle wasn't merely an abstract concept. Faraday had spent much of his free time for years either at the church talking about this circular relation, or engaged in charity and mutual helping to carry it out. (on Michael Faraday's discovery of the relationship bewteen magnetic and electrical power)
He did that [his everyday job as an accountant], head down, working long hours, six days a week on average for the next twenty years. Only in his spare time an hour or two in the morning, and then one full day each week did he focus on his science. But he called that single day his "jour de bonheur" his "day of happiness." (on Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, pioneer in the nature of matter)
To say that people have been charming, as Hahn had been all his life, is simply to say that they've developed a reflex to do what will put the individuals around them at ease. It says nothing about their having a moral compass deeper than that. (on Otto Hahn selling out his Jewish colleague Lise Meitner as Hitler came to power in Germany)
[Lyman] Briggs had entered government service during the administration of Grover Cleveland, in 1897, before the Spanish-American war. He was a man of the past, comfortable with that time when everything had seemed easier, and America had been safe. He wanted to keep it that way. (on the original director of the U.S. atomic bomb effort who ignored warnings of German efforts to get the bomb)
[Joseph] Goebbels later noted in his diary: "I received a report about the latest developments in German science. Research in the realm of atomic destruction has now proceeded to a point where... tremendous destruction, it is claimed, can be wrought with a minimum of effort... It is essential that we be ahead of everybody..."
it's [the theory of relativity] a theory about theories: the specification of the two criteria that the speed of light is the same to all observers; that no smoothly moving reference frame inherently indistinguishable from any other which any valid theory must fulfill. If those criteria hold, the theory being considered might be true. If not, then it is definitely false. (a statement by the author which fails to recognize how previous theories have always been the absolute truth against which all truth must be measured; from the flat earth, to an earth-centered astronomy, to classical physics)