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26 January 2001

BOOK OF THE MONTH

Against the Donning of the Gown by Galileo Galilei in 1590, translated
into English by Giovanni Bignami, Moon Books Limited 2000. Information and
orders via http://www.galileounaluna.com/

It
is with pity and anguish that I see

Students and seekers of the Greatest
Good

Fail yet again to strike where it may be

So begins an epic
verse penned in 1590 in Pisa, not by poet Francesco Berni, who defined the
rhythmic style of the poem, nor by Pisa’s Cardinal Antonio Pozzi, but by his
contemporary, Galileo Galilei. To those familiar only with Galileo’s scientific
work, the fact that he also composed poetry might come as something of a
revelation. That he should begin by talking of the greatest good even more so.
Yet the subject-matter of this work was close to the young scientist’s heart, as
soon becomes apparent in Giovanni Bignami’s wonderful English
translation.

Bignami, head of science at the Italian Space Agency, is a
master of modern English. With this work he has gone one step further by
translating the poem into the English of Shakespeare, and Berni’s rhythmic form
into iambic pentameter. Moreover, as Bignami himself points out, the challenge
of translating poetry from a language with 7 vowel sounds to one with 52 was
daunting in its own right. But Bignami has succeeded spectacularly. The
translation reads with fluid clarity, and the humour is as intact as can be expected
after its journey through time and language.

It is a few pages in that we
begin to learn what stirred Galileo to put pen to paper:

I now conclude,
and turn to you, signor,

And force you to confess, against your
will,

The Greatest Good will be all clothes to abhor

As a young
lecturer in Pisa, Galileo railed against a system in which he was obliged to wear
his academic gown at all times, on pain of heavy fines, and this poem is his
response. His technique is to take the very idea of wearing – or rather not
wearing – clothes to its logical conclusion and to propose, tongue firmly planted
in cheek, that we do as the beasts do and go naked.

Hilarious and
profoundly irreverent consequences rapidly ensue as Galileo examines, for
example, the potential repercussions for matchmaking and marriage.

Moon
Books of Milan has given the translation a fitting treatment by producing a
volume using the materials and techniques of the time. It is rare to find a book of
such beauty as the company’s calf-bound limited edition printed on hand-made
paper and lavishly illustrated with original drawings by Donata Almici. It is even
rarer to find such a treat in store on opening the cover, and it would be a great
shame if Prof. Bignami’s efforts, and indeed those of Galileo, were limited to the
2000 copies produced by Moon Books. Prof. Bignami is seeking a mainstream
publisher to produce a more affordable edition. Here’s hoping that he
succeeds.

James Gillies/CERN

A Alikhanian: Essays, Recollections, Documents (mainly in
Russian) edited by G Merzon, Moscow, 335pp, pbk.

This book surveys
the career of Armenian physicist academician Artem Alikhanian (1908-1978; see
http://www.yerphi.am/found/found0.htm),
including his initial work at the Leningrad Physical and Technical Institute; the
first expedition to Mount Aragats in Armenia to establish a centre for cosmic-ray
studies; the foundation of the Yerevan Physics Institute and the years of his
directorship (1943-1973); the construction of one of the world’s largest electron
ring accelerators at the time, the 6 GeV Yerevan machine; his pioneering use of
X-ray transition radiation as an important tool in particle detection; and the
application of crystals for the formation of polarized beams of electrons and
photons. Despite this illustrious history, the institute is unfortunately suffering
serious difficulties owing to inadequate funding and the uncertainty of its civic
status.

Contributors to the book are close friends, colleagues and former
colleagues of Alikhanian, including A Amatuni, L Artsimovich, T Asatiani, M
Daion, B Dolgoshein, V Dzhelepov, V Goldansky, A Migdal, L Okun, W
Panofsky and R Wilson.

Alikhanian’s notable scientific achievements, his
versatile intellect and wide culture brought him recognition among the
international physics community. In their reminiscences, Panofsky and Wilson
wrote: “We wish he was still with us during this time when Armenians,
Russians, Americans and other people of the world are collaborating in many
activities in high energy physics.”

The publication was supported in part by
the Lebedev Institute of Physics, Moscow, Russia; the Open Society Institute
Assistance Foundation, Armenia; and the Yerevan Physics Institute.

A Yessin, Yerevan Physics Institute

intern@uniphi.yerphi.am

Books received

Jean-Pierre Vigier and the Stochastic
Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics
selected and edited by StanleyJeffers,
Bo Lehnert, Nils Abramson and Lev Chebotarev, Apeiron, ISBN 0 9683689 5
6.

This is a festschrift for the 80th birthday of a physicist whose
non-conformist political and scientific views have made his long life a continual
uphill struggle. Vigier’s close collaborators have included Louis de Broglie and
David Bohm. The book is a collection of Vigier’s papers with a short
biographical introduction by Jeffers and a scientific overview by
Chebotarev.

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