A Few Words from Rosa
Many of Emilio's colleagues told me that they were very eager to read his memoirs. This was also the reason he wanted this book published posthumously. "I meet many of the protagonists on campus or at meetings, and they don't remember the facts the way they happened, but the way they would like them to have happened," he said. Emilio kept an enormous number of notes, notebooks, documents, and letters, and we spent months verifying details and dates.
Around that time, I found myself sitting next to Luis Alvarez at a dinner party, and he told me that he was writing his memoirs. "Do you spend so much time going through your filing cabinets reading old letters?" I asked him. "Oh, no," he said; "I just write down what I remember." Well, memory is likely to play tricks after so many years, and a lot of wishful thinking replaces the true facts. For all his previous books, Emilio researched tirelessly in his obsession with accuracy and truth; his memoirs were treated no differently. He had this deep sense of duty toward history; when he read it, he wanted the real facts, and when he wrote it, he tried to provide the reader with them according to his own expectations.
Writing his memoirs came rather easily to Emilio: there was so much to tell. As time went by, he trimmed a bit of the first manuscript, eliminating a few names and explicit details regarding the weakness, and I can add, wickedness, of relatives and colleagues. Having reached
eighty made him more tolerant and forgiving, but not toward all; some wounds still hurt.
What was a major problem for him was when to end this book. At what stage of his life—after receiving the Nobel Prize, after retirement, when? He talked this over with several trusted friends, both in the United States and in Italy. One advised him to conclude it at the point where he returned to teach in Italy. Another told him to end the book philosophizing about the progress of science and the good things nuclear research offered the world in energy, medicine, communication, and so on. A third suggested a final chapter on Emilio's ideas regarding the future of science and how he visualized the world of his grandchildren. But nothing was decided.
For the reader who wonders what Emilio did after retirement, I'll try to give an idea of his life during his last years. At Berkeley, he was recalled to teach, usually during winter quarters, and he chose history of science rather than physics. The series of lectures he gave over the years on this subject eventually became a very successful book, From X-Rays to Quarks, and a few years later a second volume, From Falling Bodies to Radio Waves, appeared. Both were translated into several languages, and we did the proofreading of most of these editions. There was a yearly six-to-eight-week trip to Europe, organized so that it would coincide with the meetings or conferences he wished to attend, and this included the annual Board of Governors' Meeting at Tel Aviv University, which gave him the opportunity to visit his daughter Amelia and her family. He was a sought-after speaker, with a strong voice, who knew how to adapt his subject to the audience and keep them interested and awake. On our last trip to Europe, in June 1988, he gave the opening address at the congress of the Union of Producers and Distributors of Electric Energy (UNIPEDE) in Sorrento.
He always was up to date as regards the developments in his field and in science in general; he read new books and re-read old ones, he subscribed to publications, and attended weekly seminars and discussions; and when there was a subject he did not understand clearly, he did not hesitate to attend a class, sometimes given by one of his ex-students, or to ask "the younger generation" to explain the mysteries
of the latest discovery to him. He also made a point of reading at least two books a year in German and in French, "just not to forget the language," and he was extremely proud of the fact that when German television interviewed him in 1985 for an hour-long documentary, he could do it in German without difficulty. At seventy-nine he learned how to use a personal computer, and this book was his first project on it. He subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and other financial publications and followed his investments almost daily; his knowledge of tax law was well above average.
You have just read the story of a very interesting and busy life. You know how it started and you may wonder how it ended. Emilio was well, physically and mentally, until his very last minute. At the time of his death there was a furor going on about "cold fusion." He phoned the scientists who announced the discovery in Salt Lake City, talked things over with them, and was mailed their papers, then decided that "it was not true." "When we made our discovery in Rome," he said, "within a week other laboratories over the world could replicate it with the same results. This thing won't fly."
In January 1989 Emilio delivered a brilliant address on the discovery of fission at the Annual Joint Meeting of the American Physical Society in San Francisco. He looked forward to attending the conference commemorating "50 years with Nuclear Fission" in Washington, D.C., on April 25–28. He and Glenn Seaborg were general co-chairmen of the event, and both had worked for months in the organization of it. "It is a good way to close a scientific career," he told me. Two weeks before, though, during a fund-raising dinner at UC Berkeley, he suddenly did not feel well, and I decided to drive him to the hospital. Although he did not suffer a heart attack, his electrocardiogram showed irregularities and his doctor decided to keep him in intensive care for a couple of days. Once home, he returned to his normal routine, reading, writing, making telephone calls, but the doctor did not permit him to travel to Washington, and he was extremely disappointed but accepted it. At that time, his old computer broke down and a friend sent him a used IBM computer he didn't need anymore. Now we had to convert all our diskettes to the new system, and we looked forward to the
weekend, when Emilio's 20-year-old grandson Gino, who was studying at Berkeley and was familiar with the IBM PC, was to come for a visit and help us in this process. On Friday we drove to the doctor for a follow-up appointment and after that to the university, where Emilio picked up some books at the library, talked to colleagues, and so on; then we returned home with Gino. Saturday, April 22, 1989, seemed like one of Emilio's happiest days. He was so excited with the speed and all the potential of his new computer, he looked like a child in a toy store. After lunch, the men took a nap, and then continued their work. Gino had to be back on campus by 5 P.M. , and we drove him to the train station; on the way back, Emilio suggested that we go for a walk. We selected an easy trail, he changed from his slippers to his tennis shoes, and we started walking slowly and talking about the events of the day. It was cool, but sunny, and we were the only people on the trail. After about five minutes Emilio calmly said, "Wait a minute" and stopped; he turned toward me and put his hands on my shoulders. I thought he was going to give me a kiss, as he used to do when he felt happy (and nobody was looking). Instead, his weight started pulling me down. The life that started in Tivoli eighty-four years before had ended.