I have written this autobiography because I thought it might interest a public curious about the science-dominated period in which I lived. Many other physicists, my contemporaries, have done the same, among them Luis Alvarez, Freeman Dyson, Walter Elsasser, Richard Feynman, Otto Frisch, Werner Heisenberg, Sir Rudolf Peierls, and Bruno Rossi.
Each of them writes from his own point of view and according to his personality. This emerges clearly, for instance, in descriptions of the Los Alamos period; in comparing them, one recognizes the main facts, but the differences of interpretation and the importance assigned to those facts by the authors stand out starkly, as do judgments on persons and events. These differences are interesting and should not be suppressed.
Thus, for example, in reading Peierls's autobiography, which occasionally refers to persons and circumstances I also discuss in this book, I found him to be a much more likeable and gentle person than I am. I am reminded of a remark made to me in the 1960s by the then governor of California, Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown. He had invited me to a small intimate dinner at his official residence, and during our conversation he questioned me on some points pertaining to the University of California, of which he was an ex officio Regent. I answered as well as I could; he listened, thanked me, and then, laughing, added: "When you speak to a politician you should say those things like this"—and he repeated what I had said in the diplomatic form I should have
used. The episode stuck in my mind, but I do not think I have profited from it.
Because the growth of science in this century is such an imposing phenomenon, I believe there is justification for this modest work. It is not just a manifestation of vanity, of gratitude to some, of disaffection with others, or a way of venting my spleen, as one might uncharitably surmise. It is rather a narrative of the life of one of the many scientists who have contributed to the phenomenon. Its appeal may be similar to that offered, in a different context, by the memoirs of one of Napoleon's generals or one of Lincoln's ambassadors.
I have tried to tell the unvarnished truth (as I see it) and to report events the way I believe they occurred, as well as what I felt and thought at the time. I do not like to speak ill of others, and even less of myself, but I have not sought to display manners and tact I never had, and I have tried to treat myself no better than anyone else. I believe it will be clear by the end of the book that scientists are only human.
I thank my friends Renzo de Felice, J. L. Heilbron, Anthony Walsby, Dr. Edgardo Macorini, and the late Avv. Goffredo Roccas, who helped me greatly in various ways. My wife Rosa Mines Segrè has valiantly and patiently helped me in writing this book, through her interest in it, her encouragement, and her criticism. Above all, she kept the old curmudgeon alive.