Fin-de-siècle hubristic mania was not by any means a new phenomenon. It had appeared on the scene at least once before, toward the end of the nineteenth century when, at about 1880, physicists decided that they had discovered virtually all there was to know about nature. That was when John Trowbridge, head of the Harvard University physics department, went around telling his students not to major in physics: every important discovery, he told them, had already been made. A few years later, in 1894, Albert Michelson, of the University of Chicago, announced that "the future truths of physics are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."
That was hubris. The very next year, 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X rays, and a few months after that Antoine-Henri Becquerel discovered the natural radioactivity of uranium. Suddenly it seemed that there was a whole new dimension to nature, and before the twentieth century was half over it became popularly known as "the atomic age."
To Jim Bennett, though, the century had an even more important mission, as became clear in the spring of 1976 when a physicist by the name of Gerard K. O'Neill came to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where Bennett was a student, to deliver a lecture. Bennett had already read about O'Neill in Time magazine, so he