Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The ring of truth

Philip Morrison is dead at age 89.

Morrison was far and away the best science communicator of the second half of the 20th century. I knew him best from his three decades as book reviewer for Scientific American. Each review was a beautifully crafted essay jam packed with useful information and brilliant ideas. Then there was his splendid TV series on science, The Ring of Truth. And books, including the wonderful Powers of Ten.

During the twenty years I wrote science essays for the Boston Globe, I had a number of appreciative letters from Morrison, and on one occasion he and his wife Phyllis invited my wife and me to dinner at their Cambridge home. I have never been in a home where the evidence of intelligence and creativity was more evident: books, toys, scientific gizmos, cultural artifacts -- a playpen for the curious adult mind.

Physically disabled by polio as a child, Morrison never let his handicap get in the way of a full-speed engagement with life. He taught us all that (in Faraday's words) "nothing is too wonderful to be true." He also taught us that everything wonderful need not be true. Thanks, Phil.