J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science

Synopsis

J. D. Bernal, known as 'Sage', was an extraordinary man and multifaceted character. A scientist of dazzling intellectual ability and a leading figure in the development of X-ray crystallography, he was a polymath, a fervent Marxist, and much admired worldwide. Although he himself never won a Nobel Prize, several of his distinguished students went on to do so, including Dorothy Hodgkin, Max Perutz, and Aaron Klug. Andrew Brown has had unprecedented access to Bernal's papers and diaries, and this biography includes previously unpublished material on Bernal's role during the Second World War. Bernal not only changed the course of science, but was witness to (and often a participant in) historical events (the Easter Rebellion, the Great Strike, the anti-fascist movement and pacifist causes, civil defence, RAF bombing strategy, the planning for D-Day, post-war rebuilding, and nuclear weapons). One of the few men familiar with Downing Street, the White House and the Kremlin, he left fascinating accounts of Churchill, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Louis Mountbatten and Picasso, as well as the century's greatest scientists. Brown's compelling account covers all aspects of Bernal's brilliant, colourful, and Bohemian life, and introduces this towering figure of early 20th century science to a wide audience.

Excerpt

The newest and grandest liner in the White Star fleet, Celtic, sailed from Queenstown harbour without fanfare. She cut through the grey waves, rounding the Head of Kinsale as the late November sun slipped beneath the Atlantic Ocean. the coastline of southern Ireland became a faint black line, and the little boy who had been watching it intently turned to his mother and inquired, ‘Mammy, we will go back now?’ She replied, in French, ‘No, Desmond, they must go on to America, they won’t turn back now.’ ‘Not even for you, Mammy?’

Unlike most of the passengers, Elizabeth Bernal was not sailing away to seek a life in the New World. Her own mother, who was born into a landowning Protestant family in County Antrim, had been taken to the United States as a child. She subsequently met and married a man in the small town of Knoxville, Illinois, but was soon widowed. the local Presbyterian minister, the Reverend William Young Miller, whose family came from New England, befriended her, and they married. Elizabeth (Bessie), one of their six children, was born in 1869. When her father retired from the ministry in 1883, he moved the family west to the new city of San Jose in California. Bessie and her sister, Laetitia, were sent to Mme Bovet’s Academy for young ladies in New Orleans for the type of refined education that was not available in the rugged West. Both were good students and Bessie excelled at languages. By extraordinary good fortune, the Californian railway magnate and us Senator, Leland Stanford, founded his university just a short buggy ride from San Jose. When its doors first opened in 1891, women were admitted, and Bessie enrolled there for lectures the following year. She did not complete a degree course, but instead made the Grand Tour of Europe with Laetitia, concentrating on the great centres of Renaissance art in Italy as well as visiting Germany and France. Bessie strengthened her French by studying at the Sorbonne, but she continued to speak it with a twanging New Orleans accent.

A few years later, she returned to France with her older brother, John Johnston Miller md. He was a physician in San Jose and also served as the County Health Officer, a role that brought him a particular responsibility for . . .

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