I am looking not for documentaries or biographies, those are easier to find, but for well written fictionalized but realistic portrayals of scientists and their work. These are hard to search for because of the large number of hits about science fiction and scientific literature, and because scientists often appear in film and fiction riddled with cliches and stereotypes like "mad scientist" (Dr. Strangelove), "hero scientist" (Day After Tomorrow), "boy genius" (Numbers) or "comic relief nerd" (Big Bang Theory).

The 20th century witnessed great advances in nuclear physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry, geology, archaeology, aerospace and software engineering, etc. I am particularly interested in works about the second half of 20th century, when science became more of a collective enterprise, that convey the "air of the times". What it "felt like" to be a regular scientist (not Einstein, Nash or Crick and Watson) living and working on projects at a university, a research lab, or a field expedition during those times.

In a 2008 Scientific American article We Need More Novels about Real Scientists Mark Alpert mentions Roger’s Version by John Updike, and Intuition by Allegra Goodman. Any other suggestions?


"Good Will Hunting" is a reasonable portrayal of modern mathematics; not so much the boy genius portrayal but the Gerald Lambeau portrayal, his office and general demeanour. Also, there's another graduate student of Lambeau as part of the supporting cast, whom I thought gave a really good performance. Bit of a pity these two roles have not been recognized for their authencity.


Good serious fiction about scientists is extremely rare.

One example is the novel by Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith (1925). It is about a medical scientist, a regular one, not a Nobel prize winner, and I know professional medical scientists who consider it realistic and praise it.

I do not know of a single good movie or a novel about a physicist, astronomer or mathematician. Which is not so surprising: the life of most of these people is very ordinary, and does not contain events that can be effectively shown in the movies or novels.

Well, there is a movie "Einstein and Eddington", which is tolerable.

There are several good biographies, of real, famous people, but this is not what you are asking about. There are also several excellent and very interesting autobiographies of 20th century mathematicians (Walter Rudin, Laurent Schwartz, Andre Weil), and Richard Feynmann, of course. They really read like novels.

  • $\begingroup$ Was Einstein and Eddington ever released in the US? I know my Dad was going on about it, but never saw it over here. Seems like HBO buried it. $\endgroup$ – winwaed Mar 4 '15 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ I've seen it on the web. Which probably means that it is available on DVD. I don't know whether it was released for the movie theaters in the US. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Mar 4 '15 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ I thought it was a straight to TV. I'll have another look on Netflix, Amazon,etc $\endgroup$ – winwaed Mar 4 '15 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ I found it on Amazon $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Mar 4 '15 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ I looked on Amazon US a few minutes ago and it was only listed as DVD Region 2 (ie. UK). $\endgroup$ – winwaed Mar 4 '15 at 15:43

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