Spring 2006 • Vol. XXVIII No. 2 Fiction |

Being Chandra

L. Mahadevan will write that he caught one of his last glimpses of Subramanyan Chandrasekhar at the University of Chicago's bookstore, that he couldn't muster the courage to come up and speak to me, and that he followed me up and down the aisles to see what I looked at. He'll write that two things will be forever etched in his memory—that I browsed through a folio of Michelangelo's paintings and later flipped through a copy of Sherwin Nuland's How We Die, and that, having written my last book on Newton, it seemed as though I was ready and at peace. I should like to think that Nuland is right: that "the greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it." But this is not always the case. When diagnosed with terminal cancer, von Neumann refused to recognize that death was inevitable, converted to Catholicism, was in a constant state of dread, and became exceedingly belligerent with his wife. When Fermi's operation for stomach cancer revealed metastases

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