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An excerpt from a new book by Karoly Simonyi.

by Freeman Dyson

A Cultural History of Physics is a grand monument to the life of its author. Karoly Simonyi was teacher first, scholar second, and scientist third. His book likewise has three components. First a text, describing the history of science over the last four thousand years in a rich context of philosophy, art and literature. Second, a collection of illustrations, many of them taken from Hungarian archives and museums unknown to Western readers, giving concrete reality to historical events.Third an anthology of quotations from writers in many languages, beginning with Aeschylus in “Prometheus Bound”, describing how his hero brought knowledge and technical skills to mankind, and ending with Blaise Pascal in “Pensées”, describing how our awareness of our bodies and minds remains an eternal mystery. Different readers will have different preferences. For me, the quotations are the most precious part of the book. Dip anywhere among these pages, and you will find a quotation that is surprising and illuminating.

I have a vivid memory of my one meeting with the author. I came with his son Charles Simonyi to visit him in his home in Budapest. He had an amazing collection of books that had survived centuries of turbulent history. Several of them had bullet holes from the various battles that were fought in the neighboring streets. Many of them were historically important relics from the early days of printing. He proudly showed me these treasures, and even more proudly showed me the German edition of A Cultural History of Physics, which he had recently translated from the Hungarian original. I had only a few minutes to explore the beauties of this work, but I recognized it at once as a unique and magnificent achievement. Now it is finally available in English, and we can enjoy it at our leisure.

Thank you, Charles, for making this happen.

—Freeman Dyson
April 5, 2012

KÁROLY SIMONYI was a Hungarian scholar-educator and physicist, whose lectures, and the trilogy of his great books The Foundations of Electrical Engineering, The Physics of Electronics and Electromagnetic Theory founded an international invisible college in electrical and electronic engineering.

FREEMAN DYSON is Professor of Physics, Institute for Advanced Study; Author, Many Colored Glass; The Scientist as Rebel; Essayist, New York Review of Books.

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