The Outsider Conflict in the Cosmos is a warm appreciation and cogent assessment of the scientific life of the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. Hoyle, who died in 2000, was one of the most capable and controversial theorists of the 20th century, contributing provocatively to a wide range of problem areas, from stellar structure and the origin and evolution of the chemical elements to the large-scale structure and history of the universe.The author, astronomer Simon Mitton, is at his best when introducing and then explaining in simple language the scientific underpinnings of Hoyle's theories. He also clearly recounts Hoyle's life, training and career, helping the reader to better appreciate the world of Cambridge academics.Born in Yorkshire in 1915, the son of a woolens merchant and a former schoolteacher, Fred Hoyle was sent to a local "Dame" school (a private one-room school with a single teacher) and then to elementary schools, where he distinguished himself first by his truancy. His talents emerged as he was slowly attracted to science, and then he rapidly went straight to the top of whatever academic ladder was available to him. In 1933 he entered Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge, and his life was centered there for more than 39 years, with the significant exception of his wartime service, which involved working on the design of radar systems and taking lengthy research trips to America.
Hoyle rose from a mathematics lectureship to assume the Plumian Professorship of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy in 1957, holding that position until his heated and painful resignation in 1972, when he also terminated his relations with the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, which he had founded and directed for six years. During this span of years, Hoyle had become an international figure in science and enjoyed a great deal of public visibility through his radio broadcasts and his popular science and science fiction writings. He had also become a power broker in the British scientific establishment. Yet he remained very much an outsider, accumulated passionate enemies and espoused unpopular theories.As a result, much has been written about Hoyle; his autobiography is extensive, and he and his colleagues wrote numerous essays covering aspects of his scientific life.
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The book under review here is the first significant biographical effort by a witness who was not a colleague.Simon Mitton is well known as the science director at Cambridge University Press and as author and coauthor of many popular works on astronomy. His postgraduate training was at Cambridge, in Martin Ryle's radio astronomy group, and then he became a member of the institute Hoyle had founded, taking an academic management post there in the wake of Hoyle's resignation and departure. Mitton is therefore in a rather good position to provide an institutional as well as intellectual profile of Hoyle's years at Cambridge and in the British scientific establishment.The book is solid but has the usual odd blunders and biases.
Hoyle was surely not 15 in 1915 (as Mitton states on page 23) and.