> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 1 December 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099581642
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $24.99

Serving the Reich

The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler

An incisive and revealing exploration of the fate of physics under the Nazis – and how scientific idealism led to accommodation with a totalitarian regime.

Serving the Reich tells the story of physics under Hitler. While some scientists tried to create an Aryan physics that excluded any ‘Jewish ideas’, many others made compromises and concessions as they continued to work under the Nazi regime. Among them were world-renowned physicists Max Planck, Peter Debye and Werner Heisenberg.

After the war most scientists in Germany maintained they had been apolitical or even resisted the regime: Debye claimed that he had gone to America in 1940 to escape Nazi interference in his research; Heisenberg and others argued that they had deliberately delayed production of the atomic bomb.

In a gripping exploration of moral choices under a totalitarian regime, here are human dilemmas, failures to take responsibility and three lives caught between the idealistic goals of science and a tyrannical ideology.

  • Pub date: 1 December 2014
  • ISBN: 9780099581642
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 320
  • RRP: $24.99

About the Author

Philip Ball

Philip Ball writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and worked for many years as an editor for physical sciences at Nature. His books cover a wide range of scientific and cultural phenomena, and include Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another (winner of the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books), The Music Instinct, Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything, Serving The Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Science Under Hitler and Invisible: The History of the Unseen from Plato to Particle Physics.

Also by Philip Ball

See all

Praise for Serving the Reich

“Ball's book shows what can happen to morality when cleverness and discovery are valued above all else”

Philip Maughan, New Statesman

“Ball does an outstanding service by reminding us how powerful and sometimes confusing the pressures were… Packed with dramatic, moving and even comical moments”

Robert P Crease, Nature

“A fascinating account of the moral dilemmas faced by German physicists working within Nazism. Impeccably researched”

Ian Thomson, Tablet

“An engrossing and disturbing book”

Andrew Robinson, History Today

“[A] fine book”

Christopher Coker, Times Literary Supplement

“The story is intriguing for it reveals the lack of insight of many of the world’s greatest physicists”

Robin McKie, Observer

“A new book from Philip Ball is always an eagerly anticipated event, but this one exceeds expectations”

John Gribbin, Literary Review

“Ball examines sensitively the careers of three eminent physicists who continued to work in Nazi Germany, emphasising the very different ways in which each dealt (or failed to deal) with the moral dilemmas of working in an increasingly oppressive state”

Sir Michael Berry, Times Higher Education

“Asks important questions, not just about 20th-century German science but about the nature of science and the response of scientists to the political world we perforce inhabit. All scientists should read and ponder its contents”

Richard Joyner, Times Higher Education

“Ball’s judgements are well reasoned, nuanced and, in my view, fair”

Graham Farmelo, Guardian

“This is an exploration of morality and human dilemmas under a totalitarian regime”

Daily Express

“It is a reminder that science, however detached it wants to seem, can never be separated from society or ideology”

Good Book Guide

“Ball’s real interests lie elsewhere, in what he calls the ‘grey zone between complicity and resistance’. It is one of the strengths of Serving the Reich that in surveying this territory the analysis is not unduly flattering to the moral and political certainties of the present”

Jonathan Derbyshire

“Helps us to appreciate better the contribution of other physicists during the war”


Related titles