In at the Beginnings
Philip Morse has surely been one of the most versatile of American scientists of his generation, the first to be trained largely in his own country. A scientific generalist, he has made significant contributions to atomic physics, quantum mechanics, plasma physics, astrophysics, acoustics, machine computation, and operations research. His life-long commitment to teaching, through his authorship of a series if standard-setting textbooks and through his personal guidance of unnumbered individual students, has extended this scope to include thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and the methods of theoretical physics as well.
Moreover, as this autobiography relates at a fast-moving pace, Morse has also been involved in the high-pressure concerns of war research, scientific administration and consultation, policy formation, the education of key groups and wider publics beyond the classroom, and the real-world utilization of scientific techniques and discoveries.
For all these accomplishments, Morse writes that his experience as a scientist and as a participant in the affairs of his time "has been at the second, rather than at the top, level." It may be that this circumstance of being neat, rather than at, the top makes this autobiography more, rather than less, relevant to other and younger scientists, to those considering a life in science, and to general readers curious as to what such a life is really like. Only a miniscule few reach, say. Einsteinian levels, and their lives and work tend to be unique unto themselves; what Morse reports is truer to the experience of the great majority of the members of the scientific community. While his actual accomplishments, his range, and his eminence certainly far exceed those of a "typical" scientist, they do so more in degree than in kind.
Morse's style is straightforward and nontechnical, direct, and personal. Some of the lighter moments and revealingly human incidents of his experience are recorded along with the problems and breakthroughs in the near-private world of pure science and the public worlds of policy, high-level consultation, and practical applications.