Fritz Zwicky was one of the most inventive and iconoclastic scientists of the 20th century. Among other accomplishments, he was the first to infer the existence of dark matter. He also clashed with better-known peers and became a pariah in the scientific community.
... a lively new biography ... Johnson has written a book that explains the astronomical facts simply and clearly without using technical jargon. But the emphasis is on the human characters, not on the science.
... insightful interviews ... Not a standard biography, Zwicky reads more like a stylish Sunday magazine profile, which is not surprising given Mr. Johnson’s many years as a science reporter for the Los Angeles Times. It’s a breezy and absorbing narrative, though at times it fails to provide the full background on the astronomy being discussed. In a brief paragraph, for example, Mr. Johnson seems to suggest that Zwicky was the first to imagine the existence of black holes, but it was J. Robert Oppenheimer and two of his graduate students who carried out the challenging theoretical physics to reach that conclusion, a fact unfortunately hidden away in an endnote ... Mr. Johnson provides a sympathetic reassessment of [Zwicky's] overall legacy.
Johnson Jr. tells the fascinating life story of the imaginative and abrasive astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky, providing historical context and also biographies of colleagues and combatants (often one and the same) ... Johnson provides short biographies of the famous astrophysicists working at that time, so the readers get a feel for Zwicky’s peers ... Johnson Jr’s writing is in the vein of popular science, so he will have a more appreciative audience in those in search of a good story rather than of the details of scientific discovery. Here though, Johnson perhaps overdoes the 'popular' part of popular science. He avoids not just math and physics, but also the type of explanation that is necessary when one avoids math and physics—the greatest depth in science Johnson feels comfortable with is an explanation of the Doppler Effect ... As for narrative, Johnson has a tendency to jump back and forth over many years within chapters, and often back and forth over many years across paragraphs. Though the intent may be to explain Zwicky’s arc of personal contradictions, and the long-term consequences of events across time, jumping time makes it more difficult for a reader to maintain a sense of when is now in the narrative. Another, though a relatively minor issue, is that not all of Zwicky’s life is interesting, or told in an interesting manner, and some of the looser parts should have been tightened, or expanded with greater detail, or even removed, which could be done without harming the storyline.