Preface

“If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relative to do the business.” – W.M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair.

Jim died in 2000 and it was not until seven years later that it occurred to attempt this biography. It was an ambitious project – the writer had little experience of writing in any field, let alone biography, and was unqualified to address higher levels of physics. When Jim finished his work at Copenhagen in 1986 and moved back to Cambridge – he had been splitting his time between the two places since 1978 – there was inevitably a limit to what he could take with him and a considerable amount of documentation would have been left behind. During the 1980s and 1990s he may have disposed of more. What remained, after his wife Glen died in 2005, amounted to documentation about pension and tax matters, some correspondence and some technical workings.

So at the outset it seemed that the best that could be achieved would be to show where Jim came from and how he is remembered. But from an initial enquiry to John Renner Hansen at the Niels Bohr Institute in December 2007 came many useful contacts. Soon the writer was obliged to come to terms with some of the technicalities of Jim’s work and the work of those linked to him. If Jim were still alive, he might have enjoyed the irony that the writer finally had to learn some physics. It should be acknowledged that the learning was considerably assisted by some of those who have contributed.

Those who have contributed have done so with honesty and this has in turn encouraged the writer to be as faithful to fact as possible. Jim was a private person. He cared deeply about his family, his native Ireland, and the many students and fellows he assisted over the years. Yet he was not a man to often express his feelings in words, in fact he did not use the first personal pronoun frequently at all. During the course of his own research the writer was confronted more than once with the consequences of Jim’s reluctance to speak about himself. Colleagues who had been on friendly terms with him, even over considerable periods, would say “I never knew Jim had done that”, or “If only I had known about our shared interest in that”. It is to be hoped that those who knew Jim will at least in part recognise the person portrayed here.

The 1970s was a period of considerable contention between different schools of thought in particle physics, the contention manifesting occasionally in personal attacks on leading S-matrix physicists. Remarkably, some 30 years later, the rancour has continued in some quarters : S-matrix theory has been largely abandoned for some time and one can only view the continuing acrimony as particularly graceless. In covering the events of the 1970s and attempting to provide some understanding of Jim’s expressed views, the writer has endeavoured to steer clear of similar shortcomings. Although many people remain who knew Jim, it should be remembered that some who knew him best are no longer alive, and that Jim is no longer here to present his opinion.

Jim’s research career spanned from 1938 when he became a research assistant under Harrie Massey at Queen’s University Belfast, until 1997 when his third book was published. Inevitably there will be omissions, contacts which the writer was unaware of. It is to be hoped that those people, or their relatives, will not be offended and will understand the difficulties encountered.

The writer wishes to express his deep gratitude to Pamela Hamilton, for her proof-reading and many discussions.

A. Hamilton     29-01-2009