Herbert A. Hauptman is a distinguished mathematician who won the 1985 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. His groundbreaking 1950s work in determining crystal structures has since assisted in the development of many powerful medical drugs. Now in his nineties, Hauptman has continued to refine his methods, and serves as president of the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in New York.
In 2005 he gained a measure of notoriety when he appeared on a panel of Nobel laureates at a City College of New York scientific conference. When an audience member asked about the compatibility of religion and science, the other panelists kept a politic silence, but Hauptman responded that religion and science are not compatible and that religion is damaging to human well-being. His views were subsequently reported in an article in The New York Times, written by Cornelia Dean, and Hauptman later elaborated his viewpoint in an interview conducted by D.J. Grothe for the journal Free Inquiry.
In short, Hauptman is a distinguished elderly scientist with emphatic views about the conflict between science and religion. On the Beauty of Science is a memoir of his career “as told to and edited by” Grothe, and it contains interesting reflections on, for example, the younger Hauptman’s time at university and in the U.S. Navy during World War II. It also has a number of appendices, including the article by Dean and the Free Inquiry interview with Grothe.
Fascinating though much of this is, I wonder what audience, exactly, the book is intended for. Unfortunately, it contains little sustained defence of Hauptman’s view that science and religion are incompatible, while nearly half the volume is taken up with a reprint of the highly technical 1953 monograph, written with Jerome Karle, that eventually led to their Nobel Prize.