The Amazing story of Lise Meitner written by Andrew Norton and published by Pen & Sword Books – £20.00 – Hardback – Pages 264
The book describes how Lisa Meitner, of Jewish heritage, found herself working as a physicist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin when the Nazis came to power in 1933; how she was hounded out of the country and forced to relocate to Sweden; how German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman continued with the project – on the effect of bombarding uranium (the heaviest known element at the time) with neutrons, a project which Lise herself had initiated, being the intellectual leader of the group.
It describes how Hahn and Strassmann, with whom she kept in touch, came up with some extraordinary results which they were at a loss to explain; how Lise, and her nephew Otto Frisch, who was also a physicist, confirmed what they had achieved – the ‘splitting of the atom’, no less, and provided them with a theoretical explanation for it. This laid the foundation for nuclear power, medical-scanning technology, radiotherapy, electronics, and of course, the atomic bomb – the creation of which filled Lise with horror.
It describes the crucial part that Lise played in our understanding of the world of atoms, and how deliberate and strenuous attempts were made to deny her contribution; to belittle her achievements, and to write her out of the history books, even though Albert Einstein said she was even ‘more talented than Marie Curie herself’.
The author is fortunate and honoured to have been granted several interviews with Lise’s nephew Philip Meitner – himself a refugee from the Nazis – who with his wife Anne, provided much valuable information and many photographs.
I admit to watching a programme about Lise Meitner a few months ago, and what an extraordinary story and life she had. Meitner who was a physicist, but she had two problems at the time, he was Jewish and she was a woman. Had she just been given the recognition she deserved then she could probably have achieved so much more. This book is fascinating to read and so well written. If you live in the scientific world you’ll probably get a lot out of it, but she is certainly a fascinating woman. An excellent book that doesn’t get too scientific but makes for a very good read.