Work in Progress (No, really)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam -- The First Muslim Nobel Laurete by Gordon Fraser

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I first met the man known affectionately as Professor Abdus Salam around the year 2001. Of course, I didn't actually meet the man as he had long since passed away, but rather, I became aware of the persona. There was a Science Fair held in his honor, the first of many now at our US Jalsa Salana. I had somehow been put into a group for making a project (towards the last minute too) and while one group worked on a solar powered car, we somehow ended up making a balloon-powered car (and that too on the very last day/hour and it was pretty embarrassing). Needless to say, we didn't win. Still, that's when I first came to know of Abdus Salam.

Winning a Nobel Prize in any field is a mark of distinction. It doesn't mean you were or are the smartest in world, but it does mean you're contribution advanced the state of science, or whatever the category you receive a prize for. Learning that an Ahmadi Muslim won such a prize was a truly eye-awakening experience. However, beyond that I knew next to nothing of the man.

This year I took a seminar entitled, "Great Physicists of the Twentieth Century" -- a course which examined the lives and seminal works of some of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century. The course is also titled "Creativity in Physics." One assignment for this course was to write a biography (20 pages) about a famous physicist of the twentieth century -- I chose Abdus Salam.

I can only think of three books which chronicle the life Abdus Salam to some extent -- Cosmic Anger by Gordon Fraser, a collection of essays and interviews titled Ideals and Realities edited by by C.H. Lai and Azim Kidwai and the last is an Urdu book entitled Musalmaano ka Newton by Zakaria Virk. I had planned on using all three for my paper, but unfortunately I didn't end up using the third book due to time constraints (or rather, just due to procrastination).

This book, Cosmic Anger by Gordon Fraser has a its share of good points and bad points. The thing I most dislike about this book is the anachronistic assembly and presentation of Abdus Salam's life. It made writing a paper much harder since I had to constantly find points of reference and it made it harder to weave a narrative. Furthermore, it felt like as we moved through the book (chronologically speaking), certain events occurred with little to no build-up. Again, I think this has to do with how the story is constructed. It should also be mentioned that after reading sources and writing my own paper, I get that sense that Dr. Abdus Salam was a very private man, or at the very least, that he did a very good job of separating his professional and private life.

With that said, the casual reader (or non-research-paper-writing person) would find that the life of Dr. Abdus Salam is presented in a narrative fashion. Furthermore, it's a very well written book. Gordon Fraser breathes life into this tale, He makes the story a journey more than a camp-fire tale. He doesn't bring Dr. Abdus Salam to the reader, but rather he takes the reader to Dr. Abdus Salam. Moreover, he also weaves in the emotional highs and lows of this man's life while treading the fine line between too emotional (or adding too much to the tale) and unemotional (just presenting the facts). It's also one of the first biographies written on Professor Abdus Salam that encompasses his entire life.

Hopefully, we'll see more works examining the life of Dr. Abdus Salam. The man's tale is filled with inspiration but, we also faintly sense a degree of cosmic anger that builds up as we progress through his life. Had this man had the support of his country, his renown today would be ubiquitous. Yet, despite this lack of support, his legacy still remains overpowering and unique.

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