Body Of Work

Laura Fermi’s Body of Work

Laura Fermi at her home office in 1955, working on a manuscript. Original caption: “Has plenty of atom know-how…” Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS

My grandmother Laura Fermi (1907 – 1977) was a prolific and successful author and a pioneer in the environmental and gun control movements. More than any one person, she taught me to think about the world in an engaged yet critical way and planted the seeds for me to become a human systems thinker. She inspired all of us who knew her with the steadfastness, passion and dignity which she brought to each and every one of her many endeavors.

Books by Laura Fermi

Atoms in the Family: My Life with Enrico Fermi, University of Chicago Press (1954), New York Times Bestseller, in print, multiple language editions.

Combining intellectual biography and social history, Laura Fermi, an assimilated Jew, traces Enrico’s career through engaging stories. Beginning with his childhood, when Enrico taught himself physics, through his rise in the Italian university system concurrent with the rise of fascism, to his receipt of the Nobel Prize, Laura gives her spin on what it was like to be married to one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century. The book includes the family’s escape from Fascist Italy, an insiders look at the development of the atomic bomb and the effects of military secrecy on civilian life.

Laura Hennemann, physicist, was a student when she wrote this lively commentary on Atoms in the Family (2010) highlighting the relevance of my grandmother’s words to all of us today.

Galileo and the Scientific Revolution, Basic Books (1961), in print.

By Laura Fermi and Gilberto Bernardini. An absorbing account of the origins of modern science as well as the warmly human story of a man and his pioneering work, this biography chronicles Galileo’s innovations and inventions in fascinating detail. It also recounts his clashes with dogmatists and offers a retrospective of his remarkable legacy.

The following may be found through used booksellers:

Mussolini (free online edition), University of Chicago Press (book pub. 1961).

“None of the existing biographies exactly drew the picture that was shaping before me, and I thought it relevant for me to let other people see the Mussolini whom I was discovering. Many of us are forgetting what fascism and Nazism, indeed what Mussolini and Hitler, have done to our generation; we are forgetting that without them World War II would not have been fought and our lives would have taken entirely different courses. Why should we not re-examine, with the cool objectivity which we may apply to the past, the traits that make a dictator and the forces that mold him and allow him to rise? Thus I undertook to write this book.” Laura Fermi, author.

The Story of Atomic Energy, Random House (1961).

For young readers. This lively, illuminating book describes, step by step, how humanity learned about and begins to utilize the atom. “To my friend Clifton Anderson who took time from his fifth grade work to read the manuscript of this book and discuss it with me.” Laura Fermi, author.

Illustrious Immigrants: the Intellectual Migration from Europe, 1930-1941, University of Chicago Press (1968).

“America has always been peopled by immigrants, and among them have always been some intellectuals, men and women educated abroad, who enriched our culture with products of their own. But the wave of intellectuals from continental Europe arriving in the thirties and early forties, driven here by the forces of intolerance and oppression, was so large and of such high quality that it constituted a new phenomenon in the history of immigration.” Laura Fermi, author.

Atoms for the World, University of Chicago Press (1957).

An intimate and informative account of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva Switzerland, 1955, by the historian for the United States delegation, Laura Fermi.

Thomas Carlyle, G. Principato (1939), in Italian. By Laura Fermi

Biography of Thomas Carlyle, writer, historian, and mathematics professor.

Alchimia dei Nostri Tempi (Alchemy of our Times), Hoepli (1936), in Italian. By Laura Fermi and Ginestra Giovene Amaldi.

A layperson’s history of atomic science from the ancient Greeks to the quantum physics breakthroughs of the time, including Enrico’s initial discoveries bombarding elements with slow neutrons. (In 1938, this same work led to Enrico winning the Nobel Prize in physics.)

Introduzione alia Fisica Atomica (Introduction to Atomic Physics), Zanichelli (1929), in Italian. By Enrico Fermi with Laura Fermi.

A Death in Atom City, unpublished manuscript (c. 1970). By Laura Fermi.

An intriguing murder mystery turned psychological thriller, set in a time and place not quite like Los Alamos, New Mexico, themed around the destructive effect of military secrecy in World War II. Inquiries: please contact Olivia Fermi.