Big Science

  • by Michael Hiltzik
  • Narrated by Bob Saouer
  • 14 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Since the 1930s, the scale of scientific endeavors has grown exponentially. Machines have become larger, ambitions bolder. The first particle accelerator cost less than $100 and could be held in its creator's palm while its descendant, the Large Hadron Collider, cost $10 billion and is 17 miles in circumference. Scientists have invented nuclear weapons, put a man on the moon, and examined nature at the subatomic scale - all through Big Science, the industrial-scale research paid for by governments and corporations that have driven the great scientific projects of our time.
The birth of Big Science can be traced to Berkeley, California, nearly nine decades ago, when a resourceful young scientist with a talent for physics and an even greater talent for promotion pondered his new invention and declared, "I'm going to be famous!" Ernest Orlando Lawrence's cyclotron would revolutionize nuclear physics, but that was only the beginning of its impact. It would change our understanding of the basic building blocks of nature. It would help win World War II. Its influence would be felt in academia and international politics. It was the beginning of Big Science. This is the incredible story of how one invention changed the world and of the man principally responsible for it all. Michael Hiltzik tells the riveting full story here for the first time.

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Audible Editor Reviews

"In this fascinating book, Michael Hiltzik gives us the inside story of this remarkable metamorphosis. This is a gripping biography of Big Science and of the people who originated it.” (Mario Livio, astrophysicist and author of Brilliant Blunders)

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What the Critics Say

“Michael Hiltzik tells an epic story, one with arenas of tragedy as well as triumph, and he tells it well.” (Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian)
"Michael Hiltzik sheds fresh light on the transition from small science to big science that we take for granted today.” (George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

An informative and thought-provoking book

I graduated from UC Berkeley and the names of Lawrence and Sproul are on buildings on the campus. When I was in school my professors had been trained or had worked with Ernest O. Lawrence (1901-1958) and Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967). I found the book fascinating as it provided in-depth information about people and places I saw daily and knew only general information. I was most interested in learning about the early years of one of my former professors, which was mentioned in the book, Glenn T. Seaborg.

Hiltzik follows Lawrence’s career from a graduate student at Yale to winning the Nobel Prize in 1939 through his work in World War II on the Manhattan Project. Hiltzik builds a case showing how Lawrence’s works created the sprawling system of Government funded research laboratories we now know as the military industrial complex. In 1961 the chemical element Lawrencium was named in his honor.

The author goes into detail about how Lawrence conceived and built his first Cyclotron, or circular particle accelerator that used enormous magnets to hurl fragments of matter at one another at superfast speed. Hiltzik tells of his building the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory and his development of the hydrogen bomb. I knew about Lawrence’s work on the uranium-isotope separation for the Manhattan Project, but I was surprised to learn about his work on developing the radar tube and the Lawrence Tube used to create color television.

Hiltzik discusses how other fields became interest in Lawrence’s work such as the University’s Medical School for use to treat cancer. Hiltzik shows how the government’s canceling of the super conducting super collider in 1993 allowed Europe to take the lead in physics research.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. I found it an absolutely fascinating read. Bob Saouer did an excellent job narrating the book.


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- Jean

Big Science… Big Rhetoric, Bigger Disappointment

I just cannot bring myself to finish this book. I was looking forward to Big Science providing me some education while also providing some basic entertainment, but alas it has a modicum of the former and not one scintilla of the latter. I realized the game was up when I found myself bemoaning aloud in the manner of Jeremy Clarkson; “pleeeeeease will you just get on with it?”

So, I am throwing in the towel on this book. Big Science lacks any human elements. It is cold and linear. While the narrator has an endearing voice, cordial style and decent cadence I believe the writing style compels a monotone delivery. The author gets to deep into the weeds about ancillary issues that truly have no substantive impact on the main subject. He forces the listener to imbibe in miniscule details about a certain letter or a particular offer from this or that university, but then he seems to glide right past the most interesting points, the science and the discoveries. There were moments when the momentum would pick up, a bit, and I would begin to get into it and then; ugh …. back it would go.

I typically only listen to non-fiction and history so I have learned to give these books three to four chapters to bring me in, but I simply cannot continue with this book. Perhaps it picks up further down the road? That I do not know, but I do know that were I to carry on I think I would find myself not just disappointed, but sad that I wasted the hours of my life on a lifeless book.
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- Matthew

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-07-2015
  • Publisher: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books