The title of David Schwartz's new biography of the great physicist Enrico Fermi, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, requires instantaneous clarification, and Schwartz provides it: about physics ...Schwartz's account is one of the most detailed and sympathetic lives of Fermi to appear in recent memory... Fortunately, Schwartz doesn't hang his estimation of Fermi on any such kind of exoneration. Rather, he gives readers a rounded picture of the man. Fermi comes across in these pages as a mercurial figure, toweringly brilliant in his field and often curiously magnetic with friends and colleagues ... The Last Man Who Knew Everything manages the neat double trick of making both Fermi and his abstruse work accessible to readers living in the world he did so much to create, for good and ill.
There have been other accounts of his [phyicist Enrico Fermi's] life, yet David N. Schwartz’s new portrait, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, is the first thorough biography to be published since Fermi’s death 64 years ago in 1954 ... Schwartz, the author of NATO’s Nuclear Dilemmas, cautions that the record of Fermi’s life is thin: no personal journals, few letters, little more than the testimony of colleagues, family and friends. The biographer was forced to devote most of his effort to Fermi’s work life ... I kept wishing this biography were livelier, lit with more surprises, but Schwartz, working with limited sources, tells the story well ... Still, these are minor mistakes. All in all, Schwartz’s biography adds importantly to the literature of the utterly remarkable men and women who opened up nuclear physics to the world.
Can such a biography be written successfully by a non-physicist? This is the question I was constantly asking myself as I read a biography of Enrico Fermi titled The Last Man Who Knew Everything by the political scientist David N. Schwartz ... Up to this point [after Fermi's year in Germany], Mr. Schwartz’s book seems error-free, but then the trouble starts ... More significant, the account of the discovery of nuclear fission, a central event in the book, is badly mangled ... Finally, what are we to make of Mr. Schwartz’s book? Much of it I admire and much I don’t. I have spared the reader a detailed analysis of the scientific mistakes that any competent physicist could have spotted ... I recommend The Pope of Physics by Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin for a scientifically accurate biography.