Biocurious is a weblog about biology, quantified.

Landau and Lifshitz

by Andre on 14 April 2009

Quoth my office mate:

You know the movie Fifth Element? Humanity does horrible things, is violent, low minded, and hateful. In the end, love saves everything. That’s not quite right, what saves humanity is Landau and Lifshitz and The Sopranos.

If you talk to some physicists you might hear something like “Not a single word in the series is Landau’s, and not a single idea is Lifshitz’.” Mermin disagrees:

The great Russian physicist L. D. Landau was said to have hated writing. He coauthored an extraordinary series of textbooks in collaboration with E. M. Lifshitz, who did all the writing. From my perspective Lifshitz operated in a coauthor’s paradise. He was linked to nature through Landau, who was in deep nonverbal communion with her, but had no investment whatever in the process of articulating that communion.

It is also said that even Landau’s profound technical papers were actually written by Lifshitz. Many physicists look down on Lifshitz: Landau did the physics, Lifshitz wrote it up. I don’t believe that for a minute. If Evgenii Lifshitz really wrote the amazing papers of Landau, he was doing physics of the highest order. Landau was not so much a coauthor, as a natural phenomenon — an important component of the remarkable coherence of the physical world that Lifshitz wrote about so powerfully in the papers of Landau.



  1. Laura T. D.    2901 days ago    #

    I agree! While Landau himself truly was a phenomenon – he chose his students very carefully (i.e. they had to pass his “theoretical minimum” to even be considered!). Therefore, it goes without saying that, if Landau respected Lifshitz enough to work so closely with him and to trust him to write his papers, Lifshitz himself also must have been a brilliant theoretical physicist. It would be hard to rival Landau in that category – but he must have shown significant promise to be considered Landau’s protege.


  2. Successful Researcher: How to Become One    2853 days ago    #

    Just to be precise, Lifshitz was among Landau’s very first students and for this reason he didn’t have to pass the “theoretical minimum”, as far as I recall.


  3. Successful Researcher: How to Become One    2831 days ago    #

    Sorry, after checking more sources it seems that Lifshitz indeed had to pass the theoretical minimum (but, interestingly, the first person who pass it apparently was Alexander Kompaneets rather than Lifshitz).


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