PD Smith

3 Quarks Daily – Monday Columns

I write a Monday Column every couple of months for 3 Quarks Daily. These are posted simultaneously on my own site. The links to both are listed below together with the first paragraph of each post.

That City on a Hill: Books of the Year (1 December 2008)

December has a way of creeping up on you. It seems just a few weeks since summer was here and Abbas was making hay in the Alps. 2008 has been a year of fear and hope. Mighty financial institutions have collapsed overnight and America has elected its first African-American President. Apparently, Reinhold Niebuhr and Nietzsche are among Barack Obama’s favorite authors, although I can’t imagine he has had much time for reading this year. Which is a pity as there have been some great non-fiction titles published in 2008.

(Read more on Kafka's mouse, or on 3QD)


Faust and the physicists (29 September 2008)

If you were a physicist in the 1920s and 30s, all roads led to Copenhagen’s Blegdamsvej 15. This was where Niels Bohr’s Institute of Theoretical Physics was located. The Ukrainian-born physicist George Gamow recalled that “the Institute buzzed with young theoretical physicists and new ideas about atoms, atomic nuclei, and the quantum theory in general”.

(Read more on Kafka's mouse, or on 3QD


The private lives of Franz K. (11 August 2008)

There is something about Kafka’s writing that gets under your skin. Perhaps that’s because he was always so uneasy in his own skin. Kafka described it as “a garment but also a straitjacket and fate”, suggesting that he saw skin as both clothing, something you choose to wear for a day before shedding, but also as a tightly bound involucre, restricting and suffocating the self – a biological fait accompli and a life sentence. Only Kafka could react so ambivalently and with such psychological acuity towards something most people take for granted and indeed scarcely think about.

(Read more on Kafka's mouse, or on 3QD)


Utopia on the sidewalk (16 June 2008)

For a time, in the summer of 1933, the scientist who invented the first weapon of mass destruction – poison gas – was staying in the same genteel Georgian square in London’s Bloomsbury as the man who would play a key role in the creation of the atomic bomb.

(Read more on Kafka's mouse, or on 3QD)


Someday this crazy world will have to end (21 April 2008)

The other day I had an email from an angry reader. He accused me of maligning the good name of scientists in my cultural history of superweapons. Scientists were not “doomsday men” and the phrase “an organization of dangerous lunatics” should not be applied to the secret laboratories where scientists developed superweapons. As someone who had worked in the nuclear industry, he wanted to make it plain to me that it was only thanks to such “lunatics” and their many scientific discoveries that I could enjoy a comfortable and healthy life, free from the fear of Nazism and Communism.

(Read more on Kafka's mouse, or on 3QD)