The Principle

Written by Curtis Howard (trans.) Jerome Ferrari
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In this delicate novel, award-winning French writer Jerome Ferrari has created a sparse, elegant story about German physicist Werner Heisenberg and the juxtaposition between beauty and evil in our world. Nobel Prize winner Heisenberg is famous for his revolutionary “uncertainty principle” in quantum mechanics, as well as his participation in Nazi efforts to build a nuclear bomb.

Writing with lyric precision, Ferrari creates a relationship between a young philosopher of the current day and the long-dead Heisenberg. Through this epistolary novel, the reader can see Heisenberg’s attraction to the beauty of physics and mathematics as well as his love of art and family. It seems impossible that such a man could support the Nazis in their efforts to make a bomb, yet that is exactly what Heisenberg does. And it is through the questions the contemporary man asks of Heisenberg and history that make this novel memorable.

Probing the nature of evil and the complicit actions of one man caught in the web of time that was WWII, Ferrari creates a story that carries a horrifying punch: human beings are capable of creating beauty but are also capable of great destruction, even the destruction of their own humanity. The metaphysical questions raised in this novel will haunt readers long after they have put the book down.