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Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam — The First Muslim Nobel Scientist

Gordon Fraser
Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Yousef Sobouti
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The book is a balanced biography of Abdus Salam, touching on his humble upbringing, ambitions, achievements, fame, virtues, and weaknesses. Throughout the book, however, the author does not hesitate to expand on any topic, no matter how remotely or how closely it may relate to Salam. In connection with Salam’s Pakistani–Indian lineage, for example, there is a short history of the Indian Subcontinent from the times it was a tributary to Cyrus the Great, to its invasion by Alexander the Great, to the reign of the Great Mughal, Akbar, and to the British Occupation. In discussing the division of the Subcontinent to the present-day India and Pakistan one learns about the El Niño-type political resonances around the world in the period from World War I to the aftermath of World War II, which precipitated the division. On learning that Salam belonged to the Ahmadi faith of Islam, one finds an account of Messianic beliefs in Christianity and Judaism, and of Mehdism in Islam, of how, when, and why Ahamadis of Pakistan were excommunicated by the mainstream Muslims and the legislation of the country, and how this severed Salam's ties with his homeland.

On the occasion of Salam’s arrival at St, Johns' college in 1947, one learns a good deal about the scholarly traditions of Cambridge and the major developments in physics from late 19th to mid 20th Century by geniuses such as Maxwell, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Dirac, and others. By 1958, Salam is a world-recognized theoretical physicist: A brief history of quantum physics, quantum electrodynamics and the early theories of particle physics is reviewed in Chapter 6. The chronology of the ideas that were popping up in the rapidly developing arena of elementary particles is narrated in Chapter 8.

Laymen may find difficult to follow the attempt to explain the physics of the 1960s by simple parables taken from the macro world. For specialists and historians of science, however, there is an ample account of the chronology of the events leading to 8-fold symmetry and quark theory.

While narrating Salam’s soft heart for isolated scientists of the developing countries and particularly those from the lands of Islam, the author expands on big science post World War II, the creation of IAEA, and Salam's UN connections. Cooperative Trieste of Italy embraces Salam's idea of ICTP, and within a quarter of century becomes a flourishing science city, by creating SISSA, ELETTRA, International Center for Genetic Engineering, and others.

Salam is anguished and disappointed with Islamic countries and their heads of state in not supporting scientific and technological developments to his satisfaction, neither individually, nor collaboratively. He receives 1978 Nobel Prize for physics, in recognition of his electroweak theory: Major contributions of 1950s through the 70s are elaborated.

Finally, the Cosmic Anger: Salam is bitter about his excommunication, about the indifference in both East and West to his lifelong yearning for a flourishing science in the lands of Islam, and about the unspoken humiliation that adheres to being a developing nation or to belonging to one.

The author’s extensive knowledge of history, literature, religions, linguistics, as well as the details of major discoveries in science at large, and in physics in particular, is admirable. Throughout the book he draws on this wealth of knowledge to advance a dialogue with the reader.

Students of physics may benefit from the book as a quick reference to people and ideas. The common reader may find parts of the book difficult to follow, particularly where the subtleties of field theories and subatomic physics are discussed. The book could be a valuable addition to the collections of public and science libraries. Particularly in Islamic communities, the book may stir up ambitions in youth to follow a career in science.

An astrophysicist by training (University of Chicago, PhD 1963), and a career educator and researcher, Yousef Sobouti is the former Professor of Physics of Shiraz University and the Founding President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences–Zanjan, Iran (IASBS). As the name implies, IASBS is dedicated to excellence in teaching and research in basic sciences. Well aware of the role of science and technology in improving the quality of life, Sobouti has dedicated his lifelong efforts to various institutionalizations of science in general, and physics in particular, in his home country, Iran.


1. A turban in Stockholm 
2. The tapestry of a sub-continent 
3. Messiahs, Mahdis and Ahmadis 
4. A mathematical childhood 
5. From mathematics to physics 
6. The men who knew infinities 
7. Not so splendid isolation 
8. 'Think of something better' 
9. The arrogant theory 
10. Uniting nations of science 
11. Trieste 
12. Electroweak 
13. Quark Liberation Front 
14. Demise 
15. Prejudice and pride