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A site about Godfrey Hounsfield
A new biography of one of the few Nobel Prize winners never to have completed a degree course leads off our monthly roundup of new technology books.
In the late 1970s an unknown English electrical engineer - Godfrey Hounsfield - stood before Carl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for the development of computer-assisted tomography. His technological achievement, which eventually led to the CT scanner, revolutionised modern medicine by allowing doctors to see three-dimensional images of the brain. According to his biographers, seldom had one man held such a pivotal influence over the advancement of the preservation of human life.
But who was the mysterious Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, who prior to his work in the medical field had spent a career developing computers and radar? The answer comes in the form of this wonderful account of his life that reads, at times, like an official biography packed with facsimiles of technical drawings, while at others like a scrapbook of family photos and fond reminiscences.
On page one we learn that Godfrey, as the authors affectionately call him, left school with absolutely no academic qualifications. Indeed, he was one of the few Nobel Laureates never to have taken a university degree. By the end of the book we are mulling over a list of fascinating contradictions and inconsistencies that comprised the mind of a true engineering genius. Between these two bookends lies one of the most compelling tales of an eccentric, but nevertheless authentic, visionary.
One of the first rules of book reviewing is that you should never say "I couldn't put it down". But with 'Godfrey Hounsfield: Intuitive Genius of CT', once it's in your hands you'll find it difficult to do anything other than stay with it to the end. Produced by a group of Hounsfield's friends and colleagues, with Richard Waltham responsible for the lion's share of the writing, this excellent biography is a fitting memorial for one of the great unsung, self-taught engineers of the modern, or any other, era.
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From the E&T magazine, July 2012
(published by the IET, website www.EandTmagazine.com )