Suman Seth, “Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890-1926″

Marshall Poe, University of Iowa
Suman Seth


[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology and Society] Though Einstein, Planck, and Pauli have become household names in the history of science, the work of Arnold Sommerfeld has yet to reach the same level of wide recognition outside the field of theoretical physics and its history. In Crafting the Quantum: Arnold Sommerfeld and the Practice of Theory, 1890-1926(MIT Press, 2010), Suman Seth not only makes a compelling case for the centrality of Sommerfeld as a theoretician and teacher of physics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also uses the Sommerfeld School to speak to broad issues that are central to the way we understand science and its history. With humor, sensitivity, and a wide-ranging fluency in the conceptual and methodological studies of science, Seth translates the history and fabric of theoretical physics into a rich account of the practice and pedagogy of physical science, revising what we think we know about the roles of discipline, revolution, and ski trips in the history of physics. It is both an archaeology of the relationship between theory and experiment in modern history, and a beautifully wrought tale of the transformation of one of modern science’s most influential teachers and practitioners of the “physics of problems.”