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The Pope of Physics

Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

by Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin

the-pope-of-physicsEnrico Fermi is unquestionably among the greats of the world’s physicists, the most famous Italian scientist since Galileo. Called the Pope by his peers, he was regarded as infallible in his instincts and research. His discoveries changed our world; they led to weapons of mass destruction and conversely to life-saving medical interventions.

This unassuming man struggled with issues relevant today, such as the threat of nuclear annihilation and the relationship of science to politics. Fleeing Fascism and anti-Semitism, Fermi became a leading figure in America’s most secret project: building the atomic bomb. The last physicist who mastered all branches of the discipline, Fermi was a rare mixture of theorist and experimentalist. His rich legacy encompasses key advances in fields as diverse as comic rays, nuclear technology, and early computers.

In their revealing book, The Pope of Physics</, Gino Segré and Bettina Hoerlin bring this scientific visionary to life. An examination of the human dramas that touched Fermi’s life as well as a thrilling history of scientific innovation in the twentieth century, this is the comprehensive biography that Fermi deserves.


  • By placing stunning scientific advances into historical context, this engaging biography of Nobel Prize–winning Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) captures the life and times of one of the 20th century’s most creative and hard-working scientists…fans of pop science and history will thoroughly enjoy this entertaining and accessible biography of a scientist who deserves to be better understood.
    Publisher’s Weekly (starred and boxed review)
  • The authors use this biography of Fermi’s life—beginning with his university days, when he immersed himself in the new field of quantum physics, and culminating in his own groundbreaking accomplishments—to engagingly chronicle the major developments in nuclear physics that were the focus of his life’s work.  . . .  A vivid retelling of events that still shape our lives today.
    Kirkus Reviews


Advance praise

  • Superbly written.  This will set the gold standard for books on Enrico Fermi.
    Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and author of Physics of the Future and The Future of the Mind
  • A delightful and compelling history of Enrico Fermi – a hero to anyone who knows about physics…With its detailed scholarship combined with insightful analysis, this book was clearly a labor of love for Segrè and Hoerlin, whose personal and scientific connections to Fermi make them the ideal biographers of this great man.
    Lawrence M. Krauss, author of The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing
  • In The Pope of Physics, the first in-depth biography of Enrico Fermi, Segrè and Hoerlin bring the man and his work to life with exhaustive research and authoritative prose.
    Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind
  • This beautifully written biography of Enrico Fermi brings us the whole man—the circumstances that molded him, his genius, his central contributions to the coming of the atomic age, and his very human qualities.
    Jerome Friedman, Nobel Prize-winner and former graduate student of Enrico Fermi
  • Segrè and Hoerlin have artfully incorporated a personal backdrop shedding light on the behaviors that drove the decisions and motivations of Enrico Fermi, a 20th century one-of-a-kind genius – a compelling story.
    Nigel Lockyer, experimental particle physicist and director of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • In the hands of Segrè and Hoerlin, enriched with fresh material from his inner circle, Fermi’s life becomes a brilliant – and true – historical novel.
    Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of A Beautiful Question