By developing the scale that bears his name, Charles Richter not only invented the concept of magnitude as a measure of earthquake size, he turned himself into nothing less than a household word. He remains the only seismologist whose name anyone outside of narrow scientific circles would likely recognize. Yet few understand the Richter scale itself, and even fewer have ever understood the man.
Drawing on the wealth of papers Richter left behind, as well as dozens of interviews with his family and colleagues, Susan Hough takes the reader deep into Richter's complex life story, setting it in the context of his family and interpersonal attachments, his academic career, and the history of seismology.
Among his colleagues Richter was known as intensely private, passionately interested in earthquakes, and iconoclastic. He was an avid nudist, seismologists tell each other with a grin; he dabbled in poetry. He was a publicity hound, some suggest, and more famous than he deserved to be. But even his closest associates were unaware that he struggled to reconcile an intense and abiding need for artistic expression with his scientific interests, or that his apparently strained relationship with his wife was more unconventional but also stronger than they knew. Moreover, they never realized that his well-known foibles might even have been the consequence of a profound neurological disorder.
In this biography, Susan Hough artfully interweaves the stories of Richter's life with the history of earthquake exploration and seismology. In doing so, she illuminates the world of earth science for the lay reader, much as Sylvia Nasar brought the world of mathematics alive in A Beautiful Mind.
Susan Elizabeth Hough is a seismologist with the Southern California Earthquake Center and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. Her books include Predicting the Unpredictable and Earthshaking Science (both Princeton).
"The true value of Richter's Scale resides in its unspoken commemoration of a nearly extinct mode of scientific endeavor."--Claudio Vita-Finzi, Times Literary Supplement
"One thing this book, written by one professional scientist about another, communicates very clearly, is what it is actually like to be a scientist--a welcome contribution."--Roger M. W. Musson, Times Higher Education Supplement
"[An] illuminating biography."--Emily Banham, Nature
"[This book] reveals an unfamiliar side of the scientist famous for developing the first magnitude scale for earthquakes in 1935. . . . Most of [Richter's] colleagues remained unaware of the scope of his thoughts and interests. Richter's Scale will change this. It reveals Richter to be an individual with more than his share of flaws, but also as an iconoclastic scientist worthy of his fame and of our admiration."--Gregory C. Beroza, Nature
"Hough draws on a wealth of documents left behind by Richter . . . to chronicle his rise to fame and explain his place in the history of seismology. . . . The author describes Richter's tumultuous upbringing, his penchant for nudism, and his prolific writing of poems--many included in the book."--Science News
"Written by a seismologist about the most famous seismologist, this biography of Charles Richter (1900-85) is the first researched from Richter's papers. . . . Hough's inspections of Richter's psyche may expand her readership beyond that interested in earthquakes. . . . Richter, however difficult to like in life--he had few friends, according to Hough--proves to have had the turbulent inner life and struggles with the external world of which compelling biographies are made."--Gilbert Taylor,Booklist
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER 1: The Magnitude of the Problem 1
CHAPTER 2: Formative Years 9
CHAPTER 3: Margaret Rose 25
CHAPTER 4: Harnessing the Horses 36
CHAPTER 5: Earthquake Exploration 51
CHAPTER 6: The Kresge Era 62
CHAPTER 7: Beno Gutenberg 82
CHAPTER 8: Earthquake! 102
CHAPTER 9: Richter Scale 112
CHAPTER 10: Charlie 132
CHAPTER 11: Lillian 153
CHAPTER 12: Richter's Women 181
CHAPTER 13: Autumn 192
CHAPTER 14: Asperger's Syndrome 212
CHAPTER 15: Here It Comes Again 241
CHAPTER 16: Predicting the Unpredictable 253
CHAPTER 17: Sizing Up Earthquake Hazard 269
CHAPTER 18: Hazard in a Nuclear Age 276
CHAPTER 19: Supernova 286
APPENDIX A Belated Farewell 309
Earthquakes by Date 337
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Susan Elizabeth Hough: