Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics
By Anton Z. Capri
World Scientific Publishing (2007)
I came across Capri's book "Quips, Quotes and Quanta" while searching fodder for our 2011 advent calendar with anecdotes about physicists. It took a while for the book to arrive, but I finally received it a few days before Christmas.
Capri's book is a collection of stories and quotations from the history of physics of the late 19th and early 20th century. The author uses these stories to embed the physics of that time and covers some parts of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and atomic physics around the lives of Dirac, Schrödinger, Pauli, Bohr, Boltzmann, Ehrenfest, Hilbert, Heisenberg, Planck, to only mention the usual suspects. I will admit on not reading the physics elaborations too carefully, but for all I can tell the scientific content was flawless, if with the superficiality that brevity brings.
While it sounds like a nice idea to get across science with anecdotes, the realization of that idea is poor. The writing is uninspired, sloppy and without style. It is so bad that in parts it reads like copy and pasted from Wikipedia; a list of paragraphs with things soandso allegedly said or did, vaguely collected by name or topic. At least one paragraph appears twice in the book (search inside for "Sommerfeld had this to say about Pauli").
The book does not list a single reference. None of the stories or quotations comes with a source, not even the biographical details. I happened to know some of the sources, and the respective paragraphs appear to me just as scrambled enough so they cannot be identified as exact copies. Bohr's theory of the Wild West for example probably originated in Gamow's recollection. Other anecdotes I know to be wrong, for example that of Bohr and the horseshoe and that Donald Glaser allegedly invented the bubble chamber after watching bubbles raise in beer (which even Wikipedia knows to be made up).
The author, Anton Capri is a retired professor for Engineering Physics. He is not a historian, but as a scientist he should have learned to check and list sources. If you have a scale on which you'd want me to rate this book, mark the lowest possible score. Unless you don't care if an allegedly historical anecdote is entirely fabricated, I recommend you do not spend money on this book.