Brown, Andrew 1950–

views updated

Brown, Andrew 1950–

(A.P. Brown, Andrew Philip Brown)


Born August 12, 1950, in London, England; immigrated to the United States, 1990; married; (wife works as chief of pain service at Massachusetts General Hospital); children: three sons. Hobbies and other interests: Music, golf.


Home—NH. Office—Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 79 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail— [email protected].


Worked as a radiation oncologist and consultant in London, England; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, clinical fellow, 1986-87; Radiation Oncology Associates, NH, partner and oncologist. Served as medical director for National Radiological Protection Board in the United Kingdom.


The Neutron and the Bomb: A Biography of Sir James Chadwick, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Andrew Brown is a British-born radiation oncologist who practices in New Hampshire. Radiation oncology is the use of radiation to treat cancer, and Brown made use of his knowledge of atomic physics in his book The Neutron and the Bomb: A Biography of Sir James Chadwick. In the book, Brown presents the first biography of Chadwick, who died in 1974 and who, according to Brian Cathcart in New Statesman, "may rank among the greatest of all experimental nuclear physicists." Chadwick was also involved in the development of the atom bomb. He was a quiet, discreet man, qualities that Cathcart remarked might make writing a biography of him difficult. Yet, the critic noted: "Brown has taken up the challenge and succeeded."

Brown's biography describes Chadwick's achievements—his winning of the Nobel Prize, his knighthood, and other British honors—and also explores his unusual personality. Chadwick was a high-strung, troubled man who came from a poor family, but his keen intelligence and high performance at school led to a position in Ernest Rutherford's atomic laboratory in Manchester, England. At the time very little was known about atomic science, and Chadwick found himself at the forefront of research, although he was only in his twenties.

For the next two decades, Chadwick worked as Rutherford's assistant. In 1932 he discovered the neutron and in 1935 won the Nobel Prize for his own, rather than Rutherford's, work. As Cathcart explained, Chadwick "was now a giant in his field, and all his studious efforts to give credit to others could not conceal it." According to Lorna Arnold in Science, Chadwick said of his discovery, "The reason that I found the neutron was that I had looked, on and off, since about 1923 or 1924." Arnold found The Neutron and the Bomb to be "a vivid, informed, and sympathetic picture of him—as a physicist, scientist-diplomat, and a good, wise, and humane man."

Throughout his life, Chadwick had conflicting feelings about his role in the development of the atomic bomb. According to Arnold, a friend said that "he had never seen a man so physically, mentally, and spiritually tired," or who had "plumbed such depths of moral decision as more fortunate men are never called upon even to peer into." As William Lanouette noted in a review in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Chadwick eventually did come to terms with his work, and was pleased that the bomb was developed during World War II, "because its development in time of peace would have occurred more or less concurrently in different countries and competition would thereby have been inevitable, and … because the sufferings and havoc of … [World War II] have branded into our minds the merciless nature of war and have made us long for peace as never before." Lanouette praised Brown's book as a "vividly researched and artfully written biography [that] demonstrates [Chadwick's] importance to both science and society." Cathcart's greatest praise for The Neutron and the Bomb comes from the fact that, until the book's publication, its subject's role in the development of the atom bomb was largely unknown or discounted; because of Brown's biography, Cathcart noted, "that has now been largely remedied."

Brown illuminated the life story of another great twentieth-century scientist in the biography J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science. J.D. Bernal was a renowned physicist, born in Dublin in 1901. His father was a Sephardic Jew who practiced the Catholic faith; his mother was an American who had converted to Catholicism from Presbyterianism. Bernal's early education was conducted by Jesuit priests. In the 1930s, however, he moved to Cambridge, England, and abandoned his Catholicism and Irish nationalism in favor of pure science and Marxist philosophies. Even as an undergraduate student, he was an innovator; for example, he came up with a mathematical formula for classifying the 230 forms of crystal systems into seven "space groups." He was nicknamed "the Sage" because it seemed that he knew everything.

Throughout his career, Bernal was a strong influence on many other scientists, several of whom went on to win Nobel prizes, yet Bernal himself was never awarded that coveted honor. His life story has many other contradictory threads, as well. Bernal's influence extended beyond the scientific sphere; he was enlisted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to help plan the Normandy invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Yet, when he applied for a U.S. visa in 1949, he was denied it, probably because of his support of the Soviet Union and its policies. In 1951, Bernal founded Scientists for Peace, reflecting his belief that scientific research should not be an end unto itself, but should serve the best interests of humanity. In addition to his wide-ranging professional interests, Bernal was also an ardent pursuer of women, and his love life is given detailed coverage in Brown's biography.

Reviewing J.D. Bernal for the London Times Online Web site, Brenda Maddox stated: "In this distinguished and definitive biography, Andrew Brown lays open the mystery of Sage. How, being cleverer than anybody he met, did he fail to get the summons to Stockholm [for the Nobel]? Too clever by half? Too Marxist for his own good? Or (best guess) too torn in many directions for the single-minded pursuit of a single goal?" Maddox added: "Brown writes with a historical flair rare in science writers."



Biography, spring, 2006, Christopher Coker, review of J.D. Bernal: The Sage of Science.

British Journal for the History of Science, March, 2007, Jeff Hughes, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 149.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January, 1998, William Lanouette, review of The Neutron and the Bomb: A Biography of Sir James Chadwick, p. 61; July 1, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 59.

Chemistry and Industry, January 15, 2007, Michael Gross, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 28.

Choice, September, 2006, K.B. Sterling, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 134.

Journal of the American Medical Association, June 7, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 2542.

Lancet, March 11, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 808.

London Review of Books, March 9, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 21.

Nature, May 29, 1997, review of The Neutron and the Bomb, p. 467; March 9, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 149.

New Scientist, July 12, 1997, review of The Neutron and the Bomb, p. 42.

New Statesman, June 20, 1997, Brian Cathcart, review of The Neutron and the Bomb, p. 48; February 6, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 54.

Physics Today, December, 1997, review of The Neutron and the Bomb, p. 65.

Science, October 16, 1998, Lorna Arnold, review of The Neutron and the Bomb, p. 422; May 12, 2006, J.D. Bernal, p. 849.

SciTech Book News, June, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal.

Times Higher Education Supplement, February 3, 2006, "Ubiquitous Thinker with a Soft Spot for Stalinism," p. 24.

Times Literary Supplement, February 10, 2006, review of J.D. Bernal, p. 12.


Belfer Center—Harvard Web site, (November 4, 2007), biographical information on Andrew Brown.

Guardian Online, (April 28, 2007), review of J.D. Bernal.

London Times Online, (February 19, 2006), Brenda Maddox, review of J.D. Bernal., (October 9, 2007), Niall Mulholland, review of J.D. Bernal.

About this article

Brown, Andrew 1950–

Updated About content Print Article