The British Einstein
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
This sentiment, from John Keats "Ode on a Grecian Urn", is one that many physicists would share - which is ironic considering that Keats regarded science (and particularly physics) as a destructive force, unweaving the rainbow of God's creation.
And yet an appreciation of beauty is central to Paul Dirac's understanding of the material world. Often referred to as the British Einstein, Dirac was one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, linking relativity and quantum mechanics for the first time and predicting the existence of antimatter.
Who? That's Paul Dirac: who alongside Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrodinger opened up the field of quantum physics, and in 1933 became the youngest theoretician to win the Nobel prize at the age of 31.
Don't worry if you've never heard of him, you're not alone. Dirac was pathologically averse to publicity. Silent and retiring, even his fellow physicists complained that he worked in a deliberately mystifying private language. At Cambridge his fellow students invented a new unit - the Dirac - for the smallest possible number of words someone could utter in an hour.
All of which might seem to make Dirac a poor subject for a biography and until now, 25 years after his death, there wasn't one. Graham Farmelo's "The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac" changes that, revealing for the first time what a remarkable man he really was.
Which brings us back to beauty. What Graham Farmelo manages to capture is how similar Dirac's methods seem to those of a poet. It was an intuitive sense of the beauty of his mathematical equations that convinced Dirac of their truth, and when colleagues ridiculed his description of the electron - because it necessitated the existence of an anti-electron - he persisted, arguing that the entire universe must be composed of equal parts matter and antimatter.
We know today, from experiments conducted in giant atom smashing particle accelerators, that Dirac was on the right track, and that the elegant simplicity of an abstract idea can be both beautiful and true.
It's a remarkable lesson coming from a man who had little time for literature, and who once remarked of an impressionist painting "this boat looks as if it was not finished".