Skip to main content

David Bodanis - Four Way Interview

Photo by Fran Monks
David Bodanis is the bestselling author of The Secret House and E=mc2, which was turned into a PBS documentary and a Southbank Award-winning ballet at Sadler's Wells. David also wrote Electric Universe, which won the Royal Society Science Book of the Year Prize, and Passionate Minds, a BBC Book of the Week. His newest work, Einstein's Greatest Mistake, will be published in October 2016. David has worked for the Royal Dutch Shell Scenario Prediction unit and the World Economic Forum. He has been a popular speaker at TED conferences and at Davos. His work has been published in the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the New York Times, and has appeared on Newsnight, Start the Week, and other programs. 


Why science?

Einstein once used a wonderful image to describe how he felt about the world. It's one that's driven me in my interest in science as well. 'We are,' Einstein said, 'like a little boy entering a big library.' The room is dim: it's hard to see everything there. The walls are lined with many books, in many languages. How did they get there, and who wrote them? He doesn't know. But he does know there's some order in how they're arranged, and what they contain.

How this came to be we might never know. But trying to read even just a single page in one of those books? That we have a chance of doing....if we but work hard enough at it.

Why this book?

General Relativity is probably one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. Einstein was exultant when he cracked it, in the midst of war-torn Berlin, in the cold winter of 1915/16. But yet, the very success he had in creating it led him, just a few years later, to a deep psychological mistake. This kept him isolated from the community he loved: for decades on end. Who could resist a story like that?

What’s next?

There's a story, probably apocryphal, that the great physicist Niels Bohr had a horseshoe above the doorway to his study. A colleague said, 'Professor Bohr, surely you don't believe a simple bit of curved metal will create good luck!' To which Bohr replied, in his distinctive confiding whisper, 'I've been informed it works, even if you don't believe.'

So although I don't believe in superstitions, I do have a superstition that it's bad luck to talk about my next book before it's done! Having said that, I have two scientific projects on the go: one is another biography; the other is a more poetic account, looking at matters from a distinctive scientific angle.

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Writers are people who get excited when there's more than one person in their room, and so it's great to be released from my study, and to get to travel here and there doing publicity for my book; having the time not just to meet a range of people, but to share meals, or walks, and time to really connect. I love that.

I'm also struck at living through this moment in American political history. It's not a matter of being 'excited' of course; more of being forced to be exceptionally 'alert'; 'attuned'. I'd thought only a very few Americans - 5 percent? - would relish bullying and hatred; a world of constant resentment and vindictiveness. It's something Einstein lived through: when his books were publicly burned, and crowds in an advanced country, with the world's finest universities, relished public bullying and hate. I'd thought that was the past; forever locked away. Clearly I was wrong.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…