Masters of the Universe

Reviewed by Ian Welland

Masters_of_the_Universe_940x1550Author: Helge Kragh
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-198-72289-2
Price: £25 (Pb); 304pp

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This book contains a set of transcripts from some of the most revealing interviews ever to have taken place. The interviewer is Carl Christian Nielsen, known as CCN, and the interviewees are a collection of eminent twentieth century cosmologists, among them Einstein, Eddington, De Sitter, Hoyle, Arrhenius, Dirac and Schwarzschild. Except, the interviews never really took place and CCN is a fictitious ancestor of author Helge Kragh, who has crafted these ‘fake’ interviews to give a personal insight into the work and times of these great scientists. Kragh has gone to some lengths to convince us of CCN’s authenticity and has even included a photograph of this scientist-turned-journalist for good measure.

Rarely do academic papers, journals and books allow for personal characteristics to emerge, but in Masters of the Universe we read about Einstein’s love of music, we meet a genial Eddington rather than a serious stoical don, de Sitter comes across as connected and emotive about his work, while Edwin Hubble revels in reflection.

Each interview starts with a description of where the interview took place, followed by an entertaining introduction that sets the tone. The interviews are all fully referenced with legitimate sources, including a number of actual interviews collected by the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, and the American Institute of Physics.

The value in this book academically is the relationship between cosmologists and their field of research. Furthermore, Helge Kragh demonstrates that science is about dialogue and debate, creating interviews that are both personal and delicate, while drawing out their stories.

This book is curiously entertaining thanks to its unique format and I am hopeful this is merely the first of many volumes with other ‘interviews’ to be collected.

Reviewed by Ian Welland