Britain’s EinsteinBMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b3188 (Published 05 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3188
- Morris Bernadt, consultant psychiatrist, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
Paul who? Paul Dirac was Britain’s Einstein, a pre-eminent pioneer of quantum mechanics, the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University whom Niels Bohr described as the strangest man he had ever met. This biography tells of a genius who is undeservedly obscure.
Dirac’s surname is Swiss, the nationality of his father, who was head of modern languages at the school Paul attended. Born in Bristol in 1902, Dirac was exceptionally silent from an early age, usually responding to others with only a yes or no. His taciturnity and complete avoidance of small talk became more obvious as he got older. His physicist colleagues coined the “Dirac unit”—one word per hour—and many anecdotes described his reticence, aloofness, and literal mindedness. When his Hungarian born wife asked him what he would say if she …