Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review: Life and Work of Abdus Salam

ARTICLE: A Voice Of Conscience
Reviewed by Safdar Ali Shah, Dawn, August 17, 2008

Science for Peace and Progress: Life and Work of Abdus Salam
Compiled by Dr Anwar Dil
Intercultural Forum, San Diego, California/Islamabad, Pakistan

The book is a befitting tribute to the profound physicist of the 20th century, the first Nobel Laureate of the Islamic World and the founder/president of the International Centre of Theoretical Physics in Trieste, who in the words of Freeman Dyson was ‘great as a scientist, greater as an organizer, greatest as a voice of conscience, speaking for the advancement of science among the poorer of mankind.’

The book passionately portrays the making of a great scientist, an exceptional human being, a champion of advancement of science and technology among the unprivileged nations, a ‘humble servant’ and spiritual disciple of Iqbal, a visionary who conceived and worked for establishment of institutions of higher learning and research including the United Nations University, and above all a patriot who loved his native land and its cultural heritage.

In this ‘biography plus’ we read about the exceptional achievements of a 14 year lad from Jhang who stood first in the Punjab University matriculation examination of 1940 and created a new University record of highest marks obtained by anyone thus far; and his blazing trail of singular achievements as a student and scientist climaxing in the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979 and Nishan-i-Imtiaz by the President of Pakistan, the same year. He was awarded and honorary Doctor of Science by 36 universities in 23 different countries. This is how his professor at Cambridge remembered him:

‘I met him first in England when he was 24, a student… from Pakistan. I was then supposed to be a leading expert on the theory of quantum electrodynamics. I quickly found that Salam knew as much about that subject as I did. He asked me for a topic for his research. I gave him the topic of overlapping divergences, a highly technical problem that had defeated me for two years. He solved it in a few months. 10 years later I could see that he had grown over my head…’

The book is dedicated to the inspirational role model of Dr Abdus Salam, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, and is divided into four parts: An introductory essay by the compiler Dr Anwar Dil, selected writings of Dr Salam as a scientist, tributes and reminiscences by his colleague and admirers, and annexes comprising literary compositions of Abdus Salam when he was a student at Government College, Lahore. Overall, it makes an interesting blend of thought-provoking scientific discourses, lectures, addresses on a wide range of subjects and literary compositions. Together they capture the versatility and multi-dimensional personality of Dr Salam who has left indelible marks on the sands of time.

A significant facet of the book is Dr Salam’s contribution to the promotion of science and technology in Pakistan and his role as a member of the National Commission on Science (1959), Chief Scientific Adviser to President of Pakistan (1964-74), Elected President of the Pakistan Association for Advancement of Science (1981-82), Founder Chairman, Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Committee (1961-64) and member Atomic Energy Commission of Pakistan (1958-74).

He used his personal contacts in placing young scientists for higher education and research who later helped Pakistan acquire nuclear status. He was also instrumental in the creation and development of the Pakistan Institute of Science and Technology (PINSTECH) in Islamabad.

Some topics of Dr Salam’s writings included in the book are: Technology and Pakistan’s Attack on Poverty, Pakistan and Technical Develop-ment, Iqbal Memorial Lectures, the Advancement of Science for the Developing Countries, Memoran-dum on a World University (the UN University), Einsteim’s Last Dream: the Space-Time Unification of Fundamental Forces, Science and Peace, Hair and Hairdressers (humour), The White Arm (short story), etc.

The book is very well composed, making it highly readable, bringing out the best of Dr Salam as a person and a scientist. The selection of articles and tributes, and their aptness speaks of the quality of editing and choice of material for which Dr Anwar Dil deserves praise.

The book will be a valuable addition to any library and a source of information and inspiration to the young students and scientists who wish to excel in life.


The globe of ours is inhabited by two distinct aspects of humans. According to the UNDP count of 1987, one quarter of mankind, some 1.2 billion people are developed. They inhabit 2/5ths of land area of the earth and control 80 per cent of the world’s natural resources, while 3.8 billion (1990 figures) developing humans — ‘Les Miserables’ — the mustazeffin (the depressed ones) — live on the remaining 3/5ths of the globe. What distinguishes one species of humans from the other is the ambition, the power, the élan which basically stems from their different mastery and utilisation of present day science and technology. It is a political decision on the part of those (principally from the South) who decide on the destiny of developing humanity if they will take steps to let Les Miserables create, master and utilise modern science and technology. These notes are devoted to this topic.- — Abdus Salam


My second reason for welcoming Iqbal’s association with these lectures is this: I believe that the rise of a great poet or a great writer or a great humanist in any civilisation is not an isolated incident – that it is always accompanied by an equally significant emergence of men as great in sciences and philosophy. To give one example, it is good to recall that at the last zenith of Islamic civilisation, in the early part of the 11th century, the Shahnama of Ferdausi preceded the encyclopaedic Qanun of Ibn Sina and the equally encyclopaedic Tanjim of Al-Biruni by no more than 20 years. I am absolutely certain that Iqbal’s greatness in poetry and philosophy will not go unmatched so far as the present Muslim renaissance in science is concerned. I believe that, now that the nation has begun once again to aspire to higher things, the age of Iqbal, just like the age of Ferdausi 800 years ago, will produce in Pakistan its great scientists who will rival the brilliance of Ferdausi’s contemporaries like Ibn Sina and Al-Biruni. — Abdus Salam

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