Ep. 19 — An aspiring scientist rejects the impersonal sterility of the profession to become a science writer and stumbles upon a gripping emotional saga of courage, heroism, and sacrifice / Sam Kean, Author, The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the N
Publish Date: Nov 11, 2019
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Ep. 19 — An aspiring scientist rejects the impersonal sterility of the profession to become a science writer and stumbles upon a gripping emotional saga of courage, heroism, and sacrifice / Sam Kean, Author, The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb.
It wasn’t until the third year of college and endless science classes that Sam Kean realized he was temperamentally unsuited to becoming a scientist.
Shaken by the realization that he had to reinvent his future, Kean took to science writing and found his niche as a best-selling author.
But although he had majored in Physics in college, Kean was writing about everything but physics.
Until one day, when he heard about the so-called Bastard Brigade, a rag-tag group of scientists and spies who had coalesced around a common goal, to thwart Hitler from building an atomic bomb during WWII.
Kean quickly realized that he had finally stumbled upon a physics story worth telling.
Because the story of the Bastard Brigade was not just about the dry, dispassionate nuclear physics, chemistry, and history of the atomic bomb.
It was as much about the hero’s journey of a group of ill-fated and unlikely leaders, who had willingly embarked on a fool-hardy and dangerous mission, ready to sacrifice their lives for a higher cause.
When he had least expected it, Kean had discovered the human face of science.
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Chitra Ragavan: Hello, everyone. I'm Chitra Ragavan, and this is When It Mattered. When It Mattered is a podcast on how leaders deal with and learn from adversity. This episode is brought to you by Goodstory, an advisory firm helping technology startups find their narrative. My guest today is the New York Times bestselling author, Sam Kean. His latest book is called The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb. Kean also is the author of other science bestsellers: The Disappearing Spoon, The Violinist's Thumb, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, and Caesar's Last Breath. His stories have appeared in The Best American Nature and Science Writing, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Slate, and his work has been featured on NPR's Radiolab, Science Friday, and Fresh Air. Sam, welcome to the podcast.
Sam Kean: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Chitra Ragavan: Did you always know that this was what you wanted to do in life, to become a writer, and particularly, a science writer?
Sam Kean: No, actually I, for a long time, thought I was going to be a scientist. When I was going through high school, I was taking all the science classes I could in every subject, and then got to college in Minnesota and was very focused again on science. I was a physics major. It really wasn't until about my third or so year in college when things swerved on me a little bit. I just realized that temperamentally, maybe I wasn't cut out to be a scientist in that I started working in some different labs that were doing research, and I realized that I just wasn't enjoying doing the research as much as I thought I was. I didn't like the fact that you spent all your time building and tinkering with equipment. I was a little clumsy with it, couldn't get it to work right all the time.
Sam Kean: For really the first time in my life, I started to wonder, "Well, maybe I don't actually want to be a scientist anymore." It was a little scary in that I had been focused on being a scientist for so long that I really almost didn't know who I was anymore if I wasn't going to be a scientist. Basically, what I did was I kind of ran to the other end of campus and got an English major, so I was working on both the science and the English part there, and eventually realized that not only did I like writing, but that you could make a living by writing about science. That was a good fit for me because I got to be sort of involved with science,