Is it possible for a person to be both a scientist and a novelist? On 7 May 1959, Cambridge physical chemistry professor, Sir Charles Snow, gave a lecture titled The Two Cultures which began a debate that is still fought today.
He maintained that the communication between what he called the two cultures of modern society – science and the humanities – had become split into “two cultures”, and was an insurmountable hindrance to solving the problems facing the world. He said that if you asked a national literary society how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics he would have little by way of answers. If he asked the scientific equivalent how many had read a play by Shakespeare he might have found the same.
Never-the-less, there are actually quite a number of top scientists who have diverted their attention from their work in their various fields to exercise their creative minds in a different direction – the writing of novels. And some of those novels have been very successful. Here are 10 scientists that have become famous novelists:
David Brin (born 1950)
American-born astrophysicist; award-winning sci-fi author. Wrote the post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel The Postman, made into a 1997 Hollywood movie starring Kevin Costner.
Gregory Benford (born 1941)
Gregory Benford was in the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine. He is an award-winning science fiction writer with a long list of short stories and novels to his credit, including Timescape and The Martian.
Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)
Astronomer, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, cosmologist, Carl Sagan was one of the most famous American scientist of the twentieth century. He wrote only one novel, Contact, which became a major bestseller and was made into a film starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey.
Robert L. Forward (1932 – 2002)
Robert L Forward was an American physicist who made an important contribution to gravitational wave detection research but was better known as a science fiction author whose novels were noted for their scientific credibility and ideas developed from a career as an aerospace engineer.
Poul Anderson (1926 – 2001)
Poul Anderson was an American writer, who began his career as an astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota and ended it with a record of fiction best sellers in the sci-fi, fantasy, and historical genres. Many of his novels have been adapted for film.
Sir Fred Hoyle (1915 – 2001)
Sir Fred Hoyle was a prominent British astronomer and physicist. He coined the phrase ‘Big Bang.’ He was also a sci-fi author, the author of, among other best sellers, the novel A for Andromeda, which was made into a television series and adapted twice for film.
C.P. Snow (1905 – 1980)
Sir Charles Percy Snow was a British academic – professor of physical chemistry – but more famous for his novels, particularly his novel about the political establishment, Corridors of Power, whose title has added an idiomatic phrase to the English language. His novel, The Masters, is a satirical work about academic life.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)
Vladimir Nabakov was a famous and distinguished entomologist and an authority on butterflies. Russian born, he is usually thought of as an American novelist as he lived in America and wrote several novels there, in English, including the modern classic Lolita. He wrote twenty novels.
Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898)
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of the English mathematician, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an academic at Christ Church College, Oxford University He wrote two of the most famous English novels ever written – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Queen Victoria so enjoyed the novels that she asked him to send her a copy of his next book. He duly did that and she received a copy of his latest mathematics textbook.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, poet, essayist and naturalist. He was a polymath and wrote numerous books – on several subjects. His most famous novel is Walden.
And that’s our take on the scientists that went on to become well known novelists. Are we missing any great scientist-writers from the list? Let us know in the comments section below.