I’m a terrible geek; I’ve been a Dr Who fan since 1977. I love Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams; Half-Life, men who wear glasses and that bloke Phoebe nearly married in Friends. I’ve had the theory of special relativity explained to me by my brilliantly clever friend Ben Moor about 90 times now, but it never will stick, I just don’t have the right kind of brain.
That doesn’t stop me, however, reading a lot around the topic. One of my favourite books of all time is Genius, about Richard Feynman, a boy from Far Rockaway who simply saw the world differently from everyone else. Unusually in Feynman, the world found someone who could communicate its oddities and bridge the gap between his world, of particles that move forwards and backwards in time; of subatomic miracles- and ours.
Most of these men, however- and they are, overwhelmingly men- don’t truly have that facility (I made absolutely no headway, NONE with A Brief History of Time) , but their lives are still fascinating. Two other wonders of the gender are The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos (discovering last year I have an Erdos number of only 2 made me EXTREMELY happy), and I have just finished Dr Graham Farmeloe’s wonderful, Costa-winning biography of Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man. As Terentius said, ‘nothing human is alien to me’, but these men, drifting through life with one suit and a plastic bag, living entirely in the cosmos of their heads, are certainly on the very far side. Farmeloe stops short of insisting that Dirac was clinically autistic- Dirac literally never spoke unless engaged in a direct question on his works, but by any definition the two tendencies seem to go hand in hand, which is why Feynman was such a one off. (Oh, how I would have loved to have met him. But what could I have asked him? It would have been like trying to talk to a tiger).
I did once write a physicist as a romantic hero- Finn in Talking to Addison is a string theorist, but he didn’t prove quite as popular as I’d hoped. I think he’s still my favourite out of all of them, apart from David in Class. Who is also an academic, now I come to think of it. Hmm!
And now I am, predictably, reading Alex’s Adventures in Numberland. It is nirvana for the non- maths geek wannabe maths geek out there.