Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Suspended in Language

SuspendedSuspended in Language: Neils Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis

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On the back of this book, it’s classed as “Science / Biography / Graphic Novel.” I’m stuck on the classification of this book as a graphic novel, though, because a novel, by definition, is “a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.” So, if this book is a biography of Neils Bohr, then shouldn’t it be classified as a graphic biography instead?

Sound pedantic? Maybe. But when you’ve read over 300 pages about a physicist whose life was devoted to clarity to the point of excess, then you tend to start thinking in those terms.

Neils Bohr was a critical figure in the development of quantum theory, that red-headed stepchild of the scientific world that refutes reproducible results, atomic structures, and classical science overall. I’ve always had an interest in science, even though I can’t understand it half the time (I’ve read through the portion of Suspended in Language about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle three times, and still don’t think I get it), and this book was a unique gateway into that interest. Since the life of Bohr can’t be separated from quantum theory, the book is about half of one and half of the other, and educational in both respects.

One thing that surprised me from reading this book is that the classic model of an atom that we all learned about in high school — the electrons orbiting the nucleus, much in the same way that the Earth orbits the Sun — is wrong.  It has something to do with electrons descending toward the nucleus as they orbit it (they would lose energy as they continued orbiting the nucleus), so it’s impossible for that model to exist.  Oddly, the author suggests that the reason this model persists in textbooks is because it’s a real-world model that we can relate to and understand; if we were to look at a model of an atom based on its actual structure, we’d have a harder time grasping it.

I thought this was an interesting approach to a difficult subject, but it makes me wish I understood math and science better, so I could better understand some of the discussions within.  Bohr was a lengthy and technical author and speaker, and there were many times when I felt lost throughout the book.

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July 17, 2006 - Posted by | Graphic Novels, Reviews

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