A.M. Glazer and Patience Thomson, Eds. Ciystal Clear: The Autobiographies of Sir Lawrence & Lady Bragg

By Fehr, Kregg M. | Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

A.M. Glazer and Patience Thomson, Eds. Ciystal Clear: The Autobiographies of Sir Lawrence & Lady Bragg


Fehr, Kregg M., Teaching History: A Journal of Methods


A.M. Glazer and Patience Thomson, eds. Crystal Clear: The Autobiographies of Sir Lawrence & Lady Bragg. Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. 448. Cloth, $50.92; ISBN 978-0198744306.

Australian-born physicist William Lawrence Bragg was but twenty-five years of age when, in 1915, he and his father received the Nobel Prize for their pioneering work in X-ray crystallography. They demonstrated that the action of an X-ray upon a crystal produced diffraction which, in turn, could be interpreted to construct patterns of atomic arrangement. The Braggs' research led to the development of three-dimensional models for proteins and viruses and was key to the discovery of DNA's double helix structure.

Historians of science have written numerous papers and monographs on X-ray crystallography. The Oxford University Press catalog offers several selections. Of those, an excellent, celebratory overview of the team's discovery process is found in John Jenkin's work William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son: The Most Extraordinary Collaboration in Science. And Graeme Hunter penned an exceptional, detailed biography--The Life and Science of William Lawrence Bragg. Crystal Clear, Oxford's latest addition to its Bragg collection, is an autobiographical piece. Edited by respected crystallographer Mike Glazier and by Sir Lawrence's daughter, Patience Thomson, Crystal Clear contains the autobiographies of both William Lawrence Bragg and his wife of fifty years, Alice Hopkinson Bragg.

With reason, historians tend to distrust biographies. Balance is rare, deification and vilification common. Autobiographies and memoirs tend to be worse--propaganda and apologetics. That one of the editors of Crystal Clear is the daughter of William Lawrence and Alice Bragg sounds even more the alarms of possible bias. And those bells are not silenced by Ms. Thomson's glowing description of her parents entitled, "Meet my Mother" and "Meet my Father." Hers are beautiful parents, driven by their love for one another and by a refined sense of character.

And yet, Crystal Clear: The Autobiographies of Sir Lawrence & Lady Bragg is a charming book and one that has value. Its stories, and even the style in which they are written, provide a more holistic picture of Lawrence Bragg's life. …

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