Remarkably, What Is Life? appeared at the height of World War Two. Schrödinger had fled his native Austria to escape the Nazis and, after a brief sojourn in Oxford, settled in Dublin at the invitation of the prime minister, Éamon de Valera, accompanied by both his wife and mistress. Ireland was a neutral country, so Schrödinger felt free to pursue his academic work, unlike many of his scientific colleagues who assisted the Allies’ war effort. Schrödinger was best known as one of the founders of quantum mechanics, the most successful scientific theory ever. It explained at a stroke the properties of atoms, molecules, subatomic particles, nuclear reactions and the stability of stars. In practical terms, quantum mechanics has given us the laser, the transistor and the superconductor. For de Valera, Schrödinger was quite a catch.
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