12 June 2007


When I was in college I read Richard Rhodes' dazzling The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and I was fascinated by the eccentric Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd. He was one of the first people to realize that you could create a chain reaction of nuclear fission to build a power plant or a bomb, and he was the one who convinced Einstein to write to FDR about building the Bomb, fearing the consequences if the Nazis beat us to it.

He was also quite a character. He lived in hotel rooms and always kept a suitcase packed, so he could move on a moment's notice ... a sensibility that had him scent what was in the wind for Germany such that he emigrated in 1933.

While looking for something else, I recently found a nifty little article about him, Szilard's 10 Commandments, by a Dr Ray Cooper. So called because Szilárd did compose his own set of Commandments, half in jest but half seriously. Dr Cooper has been kind enough to translate them from German for us.

  1. Recognize the relationships between things and the laws which govern men's actions, so that you know what you are doing.
  2. Direct your deeds to a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will achieve the goal; let them be models and examples rather than means to an end.
  3. Speak to all others as you do to yourself, without regard to the effect you make, so that you do not expel them from your world and in your isolation lose sight of the meaning of life and the perfection of the creation.
  4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
  5. Touch no dish unless you are hungry. (A pun that could read—Do not turn to the court of law unless you are hungry).
  6. Do not desire what you cannot have.
  7. Do not lie without need.
  8. Honor children. Listen to their words with reverence and speak to them with endless love.
  9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not prevent you from being what you have become.
  10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to depart whenever you are called.
Dr Cooper uses the Commandments as the theme of an interesting portrait of Szilárd.

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