Here are several links relevant to the history of physics and the development of nuclear weapons, as well as links to some class-specific readings.
Epigraph: The Newtonian conception of physics, for example, has been completely upset by Einstein, first, and then by the quantum theory. Nor will this be the end. Of one thing only can we be sure: What is today accepted as truth will tomorrow prove to be only amusing.
It is not necessary to be a physicist to take this course. The instructor teaches literature, not physics.
The instructor will award a small prize to the student who first identifies the author and source of the epigraph above. It comes from a popular novel by an extremely well-known American writer and was published within the past decade.
The instructor urges--"urges" is NOT equivalent to "requires"!--students to read the following books, or as much of them as possible, before the start of the course (or during its first two to three weeks). They are readable. Unfortunately, they are also long. They provide contexts for thinking about some of the issues raised by the works to be read during the semester.
(1) Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Touchstone paperback)--MOST IMPORTANT--TRY TO READ THIS BOOK!
(2) Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (Harvard paperback)--How twentieth-century American physicists became professionalized; how their profession eventually obtained an important and organized public role
(3a) George Gamow, Mr. Tompkins in Paperback (Cambridge Canto paperback)
(3b) Abraham Pais, Inward Bound (Oxford paperback)
This course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:30 P.M. On Tuesdays, we meet in Williams 219. On Thursdays, we meet in the Lea Library, on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We may occasionally reschedule or relocate in order to accommodate the showing of movies or tapes.
The instructor's office is in the Department of Special Collections, also on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. You can reach him by telephone (215 898 7088) or in person at that location. Call before showing up. You can communicate with him as well by e-mail.
Students will be asked to prepare several responses to readings during the course. Their exact number will depend on the number of students in the class. Note that the syllabus calls for a brief response from every member of the class due at the third class meeting. The syllabus for other weeks suggests a variety of response topics. Responses will not be accepted after the class which discusses the materials they discuss: since classroom discussion will depend on them, the instructor promises to be dramatically unamused, indeed unpleasantly so, should you happen to miss a scheduled response for reasons short of death. Yours. Responses are NOT graded, although they must be turned in.
In addition, every member of the class must write and submit by December 16th a FINAL PAPER of some 15-20 pages in length. (There is no final examination; the instructor reserves the right to quizzes during the semester). This essay should consider some materials not otherwise read in this class and use primary materials of some sort in doing so. DO NOT CHOOSE A TOPIC FOR OR WRITE THIS PAPER WITHOUT FIRST DISCUSSING IT WITH THE INSTRUCTOR. Please follow MLA or Chicago format rules in the preparation of this paper. As already noted in a different connection, death (preferably yours) is the only acceptable excuse for lateness. "Radiation sickness" is not an acceptable excuse.
In general, the instructor appreciates good writing. He will look with disfavor upon essays, whether brief responses or full-fig final papers, that are poorly written. Sloppy writing normally means sloppy thinking.
This class will work through discussion rather than lectures. Your attendance will make a difference in its success--and your attendance and participation in your grade. Ground rules: talk; interrupt; open your mouths. Be polite; do not let politeness get in the way of making your points. NOTE: The instructor is eager but not lunatic; he has noticed that he has asked you to read a lot. Do as much as you can. He hopes that relatively light writing and no exam requirements will help make the reading load a bit more palatable (and possible). If you can get an early start on Mosley's Hopeful Monsters, you will be glad you did so.
NOTE: Some material will be distributed in photocopy ("bulkpack"). Books to be purchased are available at the Pennsylvania Book Center, 3726 Walnut Street.
Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Physicists (Grove pb)
Richard P. Feynman, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Adventures of a Curious Character (Bantam Classics Spectra pb)
Peter Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds (Fromm pb)--NOTE: Goodchild's book is out of print
John Hersey, Hiroshima, rev. ed. 1986 (Bantam pb)
Masuji Ibuse, Black Rain (Bantam or Kodansha pb)
Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams (Warner pb)
Russell McCormmach, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist (Harvard pb)
Richard H. Minear, ed., Hiroshima: Three Witnesses (Princeton pb)
Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters (Vintage pb)
Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Touchstone pb)
Otto Frisch, What Little I Remember (Cambridge Canto pb)
George Gamow, Mr. Tompkins in Paperback (Cambridge Canto)
James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (Vintage pb)
Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (Harvard pb)
Martin Cruz Smith, Stallion Gate (Ballantine pb)
C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge Canto pb)
The instructor will distribute separately a list of books on reserve for this class in the Rosengarten Reserve Room (Van Pelt Library, basement level).
Week 1 (one meeting only this week)
4 September: Introduction to the course
9 and 11 September: Being a physicist or some other sort of academic person
For the entire class: a short (1-2 page) response--which, you will recall, is ungraded--is due at Thursday's session:
Both Bernstein and Caesar teach at "second-rate" institutions. Only one of them appears to notice it. Who has the better job, Bernstein the physicist or Caesar the English professor, and why?
16 and 18 September: One way of defining the subject of this class
What is the effect of Hersey's tone on the reader of his essay? Is it helpful to think also about Fussell's (very different) tone as we try to gauge the impact of tone on the ways in which readers approach texts of these kinds?
23 and 25 September: Another way of defining the subject of this class
Compare and contrast the treatments of "the Hiroshima experience" [sic!] provided by Hersey, Ibuse, and any one of the writers included in Minear.
30 September and 2 October: A third way of defining the subject of this class
How convincing do you find Durrenmatt's Fraulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd? Does her "convincingness" matter?
7 and 9 October: The Manhattan Project variously viewed
NOTE: Most of the material for week 6 will be provided either in your BULKPACK or in original hard-copies (what we used to call "books") in the ROSENGARTEN RESERVE ROOM. Although he has specifically assigned only specific chapters or sections, the instructor, in a utopian mood, urges those of you with time, energy, interest, and sufficient reading speed to read as much of the rest of these books as you can. All of them are misrepresented by being sampled instead of read.
You've read selections from a few of the many memoirs and descriptions written by and about the people engaged in building the first nuclear weapons. Recognizing the difficulties of this question (the instructor hopes you will think it worthwhile to think about these difficulties "out loud" while also trying to answer the question), some of which are a function of the limited size of the sample alone, can you begin to characterize these people in any "generalizable" ways at all? Whether your answer is "yes, and in this or these way(s)" or "no," why do you come up with the answer you come up with? More difficult still, what impression(s) of these people and this project do you come away from these memoirs with?
Week 7 (one meeting only this week)
14 October: FALL BREAK--NO CLASS
16 October: We catch our breath and catch up a bit
21 and 23 October: Oppenheimer
Choose one and comment.
- got screwed;
- got what he deserved;
- wasn't the issue.
28 and 30 October: A voice from the past
Is McCormmach writing as "a historian of science" or "a novelist" in this book? What might such a distinction mean?
4 and 6 November: Einstein
NOTE: By now, you should at least have begun to read the LONG novel by Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters. You will be sorry if you do not start it sooner rather than later.
- Write a brief critical review of Friedman/Donley.
- Discuss Williams's "Einstein" (or, if it is available, Gitlin's "Einstein"; someone may want to do this topic anyway, using the Library copy of Gitlin's book).
11 and 13 November: An English perspective
- Is Snow's thesis in TC as convincing in the mid-1990s as it seems to have been at the end of the 1950s?
- What so excited public response to TC? What historical situation did Snow address, and out of what intellectual context? In what sense do these factors also affect response to NM?
- "Snow not only hasn't in him the beginnings of a novelist, he is utterly without a glimmer of what creative literature is, or why it matters."--sic F. R. Leavis. Comment, with reference to NM.
In addition, keep on reading Nicholas Mosley's Hopeful Monsters.
18 and 20 November: Another English perspective
Week 13 (one meeting only this week)
25 November: Mosley, continued
While he cannot be blamed for the sins of his ancestors, nonetheless the author has a curious family relationship to some of the worst excesses of the World War II era. Do you see any signs that this relationship influences the depiction he provides of people engaged in the Manhattan Project in this novel?
27 November--THANKSGIVING DAY--NO CLASS
2 and 4 December: American melodramatists; and coda
NOTE: No response topics have been assigned for this last week of class.
16 December: FINAL PAPER DUE
Here is the reserve reading list for this class.
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