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BCW, vol. 12

Niels Bohr Archive

(1934 - 1961)

Edited by
Finn Aaserud

We are proud to announce that the next to the last volume of the Niels Bohr Collected Works, the first volume of which appeared in 1972 under the editorship of Léon Rosenfeld, has just been published. Documenting Bohr's political writings and involvements, it is directed towards a broad audience.

Part I is devoted to Niels Bohr's mission to promote an open world between nations, that is, full sharing of information in the scientific and technical, as well as in the cultural spheres. Bohr's efforts can only be understood with reference to his experiences between the two world wars, when he actively helped refugee physicists from Nazi Germany and learned first-hand how Soviet physicists were prevented from taking part in international cooperation. However, what in the end prompted the mission was Bohr's realization, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark in the autumn of 1943, that the atomic bomb was on the way to becoming a reality. As he wrote in 1944, he considered that the existence of the bomb "would not only seem to necessitate but should also, due to the urgency of mutual confidence, facilitate" the realization of an open world. During the Second World War, while being actively involved in the Allied atomic bomb project, Bohr was able to promote is view in personal interviews with Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt. He received invaluable help in his efforts from his son, Aage, who was with his father throughout the war exile from Denmark. After the war he continued his confidential approaches to the statesmen while publishing more generally oriented articles on the issue.

Although Bohr put in as much work in his appeals to the statesmen as in his other writings, they were not intended for publication. This has called for the inclusion, along with the relatively few publications addressing the open world, of previously unpublished documents as part of Bohr's main writings, which culminated with his Open Letter to the United Nations in 1950. These contributions are put into context by an appendix of relevant letters and notes (including correspondence with colleagues and politicians, such as Joseph Stalin, documenting Bohr's interwar activities, and extensive documentation from the Niels Bohr Archive and other repositories shedding light on Bohr's subsequent political activities) and by an extensive historical introduction written by the editor. The material adds up to a fascinating story of the political dedication and social responsibility of one of the major scientists of the twentieth century.

Part II documents Bohr's other social and political activities, such as his long-time presidency in the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters and his promotion of the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Taking a broader approach than most of his other publications, these occasional writings - which are most often published versions of talks at public events on issues ranging from awarding prizes to fellow scientists through raising money for the cause of cancer to celebrating the anniversary of Bohr's football club - are particularly well suited to present Bohr to the general public, as a thinker as well as a person.

Volume 12, Popularization and People (1911 - 1962), will be published in 2006 as the concluding volume in the series.

Table of contents

Link to Elsevier, the publisher

Frontispiece, BCW vol. 11

Finn Aaserud, 16 December 2005

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