Monday, July 11, 2016

Review of "Copenhagen," by Michael Frayn

Review of

Copenhagen, by Michael Frayn ISBN 0413724905

Five out of five stars

 In 1941, after Germany had violently overrun nearly all of Europe, German physicist Werner Heisenberg traveled to Copenhagen to meet with Danish physicist Niels Bohr. At the time, Denmark was also under German occupation, so the two men were citizens of countries that were at war.
 There was also the extremely significant backdrop of the potential for the development of nuclear weapons. The prospect of building such weapons had moved to the plausible and if Germany were to build one, Heisenberg would have been one of the leaders of the team.
 The topic of their discussion has been the subject of a great deal of speculation, there are those that believe that Heisenberg engaged in some form of sabotage by deliberately misstating the physics to the decision makers in the German government. Others believe that Heisenberg was simply wrong.
 This play features Heisenberg, Bohr and Bohr’s wife Margrethe as they are now spirits and engaged in a retrospective of that famous meeting. It is a play packed with historical significance, for it is possible that the two men were capable of turning the war around. If Germany had been able to develop nuclear weapons in the latter years of the war, the result would have been different. The additional deaths would have been in the millions and Europe after the war would have had a vastly different map.
 There are references to physicists and physical principles such as the uncertainty principle, so it is helpful if the reader understands the references. For they are made in a context where assumption of understanding is given.
 As a mathematician/scientist I am pleased that hard science would be the subject of a play for the masses. Science is an integral and necessary part of modern societies and nowhere was that more significant than when nations were simultaneously at war and in the process of pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.

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