Monday, June 07, 2010

Dirac, Winnie-the-Pooh and Me

On page 261 of "The Strangest Man" [1], the much acclaimed biography of Paul Dirac written by Graham Farmelo, I found the following passage.
After dinner, he [Dirac] would read one of the books Manci had recommended to him (including Winnie the Pooh) [. . .]

Dirac was a British theoretical physicist and shared the Nobel Prize in Physics 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory." Manci was the sister of Eugene Wigner, who was a Hungarian-American physicist and also Nobel Laureate. Manci married Dirac in 1937. The anecdote expressed in the above quote was of two years before their marriage.

Stories in the book Winnie-the-Pooh [2] are about the adventures of a teddy bear [3]. Perhaps, most readers of this book are children, though it is also amusing to adults. Therefore, the fact that Dirac, then already a Nobel Laureate and more than thirty years old, read that book is smile provocative.

I especially like this anecdote for another reason. It is that I read Winnie-the-Pooh at an age similar to Dirac's when he read it. I read the Japanese edition of the book [4] to my first daughter Yuko (now forty-seven years old) when she was a small child. To my delight, she wrote in her blog a few years ago that she kept the copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, which I used to read to her, even then as one of her most valuable treasures.

While Yuko was still a little girl, I saw a father and his daughter at the bookshop of a department store in Osaka. They were looking for some English book. Soon the father found it. The daughter took a copy up from a small pile, opened it and read the first sentence of Chapter 1 aloud, "Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, . . ." She then said, "This is it!" The father bought it for her. Perhaps, she had learned the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh in English at school and wanted to read the whole book. I then wished to do the same in a few years for Yuko as that father did for her daughter; but it did not happen.

Instead, I had a chance of taking Yuko to a short animation film "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" [5] released by The Walt Disney Company in 1966. (The second daughter Yasuko was yet too young to watch it; and stayed home with my wife.)

In 1991, Mainichi Shimbun Company held an exhibition of the original illustrations drawn by Ernest Shepard for the books Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and The Wind in the Willows at a department store in Osaka. I went to see it with my wife. On that occasion, I bought a booklet [6] of 48 pages. It includes lovely illustrations, in which Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and other cute animals in Winnie-the-Pooh are seen. I still keep that booklet.
  1. Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, quantum Genius (Faber and Faber, London, 2009).
  2. A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (illustr.) Winnie-the-Pooh (Dutton Juvenile, Boson, 1988; first published by Methuen, London, 1926).
  3. "Winnie-the-Pooh (book)" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (6 March 2010 at 20:06).
  4. A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard (illustr.), Momoko Ishi (transl.), クマのプーさん プー横丁にたった家 (Iwanami, 1962; first published 1940).
  5. "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree", Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (31 May 2010 at 20:41).
  6. The World of Winnie-the-Pooh & Ernest Shepard (Winnie-the-Pooh Festival Executive Committee, 1991).


  1. I have that book on my reading list; the Dirac bio, not Winnie the Pooh >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  2. From the first half of your comment, I supposed that "that book" meant Winnie-the-Pooh. Surely, you've joked.