The Pursuit of Quantum Gravity: Memoirs of Bryce DeWitt from 1946 to 2004 and Bryce DeWitt’s Lectures on Gravitation

25 October 2011

The Pursuit of Quantum Gravity: Memoirs of Bryce DeWitt from 1946 to 2004

By Cécile DeWitt Morette

Springer 2011
Hardback: £31.99 €36.87 $49.95

Bryce DeWitt’s Lectures on Gravitation

By Bryce DeWitt (ed. Steven M Christensen)
Springer 2011
Paperback: £62.99 €73.80 $89.95


Bryce DeWitt made many deep contributions to quantum field theory, general relativity and quantum gravity. He generalized Richard Feynman’s original approach to quantum gravity at the one-loop level, to a fully fledged, all-order quantization of non-abelian gauge theories, including ghosts. The formalism that he developed also transformed the way that we think about quantum field theory, although it took some time before his ideas percolated the community.

The Pursuit of Quantum Gravity is a charming and remarkable book put together by Cécile Morette, who became his wife and was to share his life for more than 50 years. Here we meet the man and his science. It is a remarkable story of vision, passion, independence and determination that led this scientist along such a difficult road, against all odds.


The material in the book is difficult to find elsewhere and it is not only highly informative but also a pleasure to read. For instance, the way that he organized an expedition to Mauritania to check the deflection of light by the Sun and thus verify the results from the 1919 eclipse by Arthur Eddington et al. There are also documents that are not easily accessible elsewhere, such as the essay that won him the first prize of the Gravity Research Foundation in 1953. It is quite remarkable how many aspects of the vision laid out in that paper that he was able to accomplish.

This book makes us aware of how much we owe Bryce DeWitt, and how deep and broad his influence has been. It pays homage to a truly great man – through the words of the person who knew and understood him best.

Back in 1971, he delivered a series of lectures on gravitation at Stanford University, before moving to the University of Texas at Austin. It has taken 40 years for them to be available to the physics community, but finally they are here as Bryce DeWitt’s Lectures on Gravitation, thanks to the efforts of his former student Steven M Christensen. Anyone who has seen the original realizes how grateful we should be to the editor for the large amount of work required in carrying out this task.

These lectures do not represent a standard introduction to the subject but rather DeWitt’s unique way of presenting it. Along with standard topics that include special relativity, continuous groups and Riemannian manifolds, one finds a remarkable treatment of the study of asymptotic fields, the energy–momentum of the gravitational field, and above all the dynamics of the production and propagation of gravitational waves.

Many of the results found here cannot be found in other books or review articles on the subject, despite the number of years that have elapsed since they were presented. Take, for example, the treatment of the angular momentum carried by gravitational waves, where a cursory look at the relevant chapters shows why this book is different. The complexity of the algebra involved requires a combination of tenacity, wizardry and understanding that is difficult to find in any other master of general relativity. DeWitt’s head-on, uncompromising approach is unique.

The book also has high historical value, showing how this maverick maven thought of the subject. It is a great tribute to his scientific legacy.

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