We know that, out of a need for escapism during this time, people are turning more and more to fiction. So, taking a little break from straight popular science books in this post, here are some lab lit novels featuring scientists who really existed.
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn
How different would the world have looked had the Nazis been the first to build an atomic bomb? Werner Heisenberg, one of Hitler’s lead nuclear scientists, famously and mysteriously met in Copenhagen with his colleague and mentor, Niels Bohr, one of the founders of the Manhattan Project. Michael Frayn’s Tony Award-winning drama imagines their reunion. Joined by Niels’ wife, Margrethe, these three brilliant minds converge for an encounter of atomic proportions.
Audiobook: L.A. Theatreworks version
Starring Alfred Molina, Shannon Cochran, and David Krumholtz
Audiobook: BBC version
Starring Simon Russell Beale, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Greta Scacchi
Purchase from Audible
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems sent shivers through Vienna’s intellectual circles and directly challenged Ludwig Wittgenstein’s dominant philosophy. Alan Turing’s mathematical genius helped him break the Nazi Enigma Code during WWII. Though they never met, their lives strangely mirrored one another—both were brilliant, and both met with tragic ends. Here, a mysterious narrator intertwines these parallel lives into a double helix of genius and anguish, wonderfully capturing not only two radiant, fragile minds but also the zeitgeist of the era.
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
It is 1943, and the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla occupies a forbidden room on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, stealing electricity. Louisa, a young maid at the hotel determined to befriend him, wins his attention through a shared love of pigeons; with her we hear his tragic and tremendous life story unfold. Meanwhile, Louisa discovers that her father—and her handsome, enigmatic love interest, Arthur Vaughan—are on an unlikely mission to travel back in time and find his beloved late wife. A masterful hybrid of history, biography, and science fiction, The Invention of Everything Else is an absorbing story about love and death and a wonderfully imagined homage to one of history’s most visionary scientists.
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, about time, relativity and physics. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann
Late in the eighteenth century, two young Germans set out to measure the world. One of them, the aristocratic naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, negotiates jungles, voyages down the Orinoco River, tastes poisons, climbs the highest mountain known to man, counts head lice, and explores and measures every cave and hill he comes across. The other, the reclusive and barely socialized mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, can prove that space is curved without leaving his home. Terrifyingly famous and wildly eccentric, these two polar opposites finally meet in Berlin in 1828, and are immediately embroiled in the turmoil of the post-Napolean world.
This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson
This is an epic novel of sea-faring adventure set in the 19th century charting the life of Robert Fitzroy, the captain of ‘The Beagle’ and his passenger Charles Darwin. It combines adventrure, emotion, ideas, humour and tragedy as well as illuminating the history of the 19th century. Fitzroy, the Christian Tory aristocrat believed in the sanctity of the individual, but his beliefs destroyed his career and he committed suicide. Darwin, the liberal minor cleric doubts the truth of the Bible and develops his theory of evolution which is brutal and unforgiving in human terms. The two friends became bitter enemies as Darwin destroyed everything Fitzroy stood for.
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