Frank Close: Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy. New York: Basic Books, 2015, xix + 366 pages. $29.99 (cloth)
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Aside from being a great physicist, Bruno Pontecorvo was a very interesting man. He also led an extraordinary life in extraordinary times. Born in August 1913 to wealthy parents belonging to that small and largely assimilated Italian Jewish population, he was the fourth of Massimo and Maria’s eight children, five boys and three girls, all of them remarkable. His older brother Guido became a renowned geneticist and his younger brother Gillo was the creator and director of the enormously influential film Battle of Algiers. One could go on to describe the lives of the other five, but Bruno was probably the most remarkable of them all.
He was handsome, charming, a superb athlete, witty, gregarious and the life of any party. His early path to success on all fronts was golden. At eighteen, having decided that he wanted to be a physicist, Pontecorvo moved to Rome in order to study and work with Enrico Fermi, the young professor who was revitalizing the subject in Italy.
In 1934, though only...