AUTHORClose, Frank
TITLEHalf-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy
PUBLISHERBasic Books
CITYNew York, NY
DATE PUBLISHED2015
ISBN978-0-465-06998-9


This biography of Italian physicist Bruno Pontecorvo weaves nuclear physics and Cold War intrigue into an engaging story. It describes Pontecorvo’s early work with Enrico Fermi and in the laboratory of Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie prior to World War II, his participation in the Canadian nuclear program during the war, and his migration to the Harwell nuclear facility in Britain after the war. His sudden move to the Soviet Union in 1950 is why the title refers to Pontecorvo's life as "divided." Much of the center portion of the book focuses on evidence for and against the possibility of Pontecorvo’s having been a spy for Russia during World War II and on what critical information he brought with him into the Russian reactor and bomb projects. The author, a research physicist, nicely connects the physics associated with the development of nuclear reactors and fission (and later fusion) weapons with Pontecorvo’s physics and personal life. The narrative offers an interesting view of Pontecorvo and the period in which he lived, rich in nuclear physics discovery and espionage activity.


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