by C.P. Snow
Little, Brown; 192 pages; $15.95
When C.P. Snow was an eight-year-old in the drab Midlands city of Leicester, he read about the atom in a children's encyclopedia. An atom, the credulous lad was told, resembles the ulterior of a cathedral, in which tennis ballsthe electronsbounce about violently. This fanciful account gave the factory clerk's son "the first sharp mental excitement I ever had." He never quite got over it.
The plot that Snow the ex-physicist unfolds in this posthumously published work of nonfiction is better than any that Snow the...