abstract-nielsen – Niels Bohr Archive

Kristian H. Nielsen, University of Aarhus, Denmark
The Bohr atom bound in cloth: comparing popular books about atomic physics in Germany, Britain, and Denmark, 1918 ‒ 1927

The rise of quantum theory in the early decades of the twentieth century sparked numerous popular books, all of which presented in words, and a few in images, new scientific ideas about the structure of the atom to the general public. In Germany, physicists Leo Gratz and Arnold Sommerfeld published Die Atomtheorie (1918) and Atombau und Spektrallinien (1919), respectively; US physicist and inventor Albert Crehore criticized Bohr’s theory in his The Atom (1919); British physicist Edward Andrade and Norman Robert Campbell in separate books elucidated The Structure of the Atom (both 1923); and in Denmark popular science writer Helge Holst and Dutch physicist Hendrik A. Kramers co-authored a book about Bohr’s theory of the atom (1922) that was later translated into English, German, Spanish, and Dutch. This paper compares these and other contemporary “atomic books” with respect to their cultural context, publication history, authorship, intended readers, analogies used to explain in words the new atomic physics, and iconography. It will be argued that these books served a range of purposes from plain popularisation to scientific contemplation.