I have just heard some very sad news – Professor Peter T Landsberg has died over this weekend 🙁  Landsberg is a name you will be familiar with if you have studied Thermodynamics (Entropy), Quantum Mechanics, or Time to any extent.  I can vividly recall picking up a book in the Sussex University Bookshop called “The Enigma of Time” by P T Landsberg and buying it on the spot.  Two strange things as I write this, one I also recall being very surprised to read on the back cover that Peter was at the University of Southampton.  I had taken a first degree in Physics, Maths and Astronomy between 1975 and 1978 at the University of Sussex and I was familiar with the name Landsberg in the field of Quantum Mechanics and for some reason I expected him to be somewhere like Caltech where you would find the likes of Feynman – strange!  What’s even more strange is that I see the publication date for the paperback edition of “The Enigma of Time” is 1984 – yet I had left Sussex some 6 years earlier.  I would have sworn that I bought the book during my Undergraduate studies – clearly I didn’t – and I have no recollection of going back to the bookshop in 1984, and have no idea why I would have done so.  Already the memories are muddled!!

Fast forward 20-odd years and I find myself at the University of Southampton starting as a junior lecturer in Electronics – I am in the land of Peter Landsberg!  I didn’t think this at the time, I had forgotten all about the above, and it was several years before I realised Peter was at Southampton and it was probably seeing him in the Staff Club that triggered all the long-lost memories.  I got to know Peter a little, and we even had a few meetings with another Prof. from Physics about the Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics – great times!!  However, around this time I also got involved with a spin-out company and I lost contact with Peter, and much else that was pleasant in life to be honest for 3 long years.

Peter was a most unassuming character – unbelievably sharp in mind (and body) well into his 70s.  Peter used to keep very quiet about his age, all he would say was that he was “very old” 🙂  However, I have a paper from Mathematics TODAY entitled “An Interview with Peter T. Landsberg C. Math FIMA on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday” and the paper is dated October 2002, so Peter was born some time during 1922.  Peter met Einstein and David Bohm and had a great many adventures in his life including being robbed on a Cuban beach (he was attending a Conference in Cuba) and being left with only his swimming trunks to get back to the hotel some distance away.  I was invited to his house for a party and met his wife Sylvia and my wife and I signed the Guest Book as we left and noted the many very prominent people who had crossed the Landsberg threshold.  Peter was a Genius – a title he would not have liked at all – but tough, he was one.  He was also a great humanist having left Germany in rather difficult times (especially for a Landsberg!) much to our benefit.

I see that I had sufficient presence of mind to get Peter to sign my copy of “The Enigma of Time” in 1992, I also have a signed copy of his book “Seeking Ultimates” dated 10th December 1999 – so there are a couple of things I have in addition to my memories to remember this great man by.  Finally, during my period in exile when I was at the spin out company I must have returned to the University Staff Club for lunch, and fortunately I had my camera with me as Peter was in as well.  So my most treasured Peter T Landsberg possession is reproduced below –  I will sorely miss the chance to sit down and discuss Physics with such a pleasant and learned man ever again.  So long Peter – it was an honour and a pleasure to have met you.

Postscript: I just recalled as I was finishing writing this entry that I had offered to write Peter’s Biography.  Peter was in agreement with the project but suggested, in his usual way, that perhaps the Publishers would not actually be at all interested in his Biography.  I wrote to a number of Publishers discussing the project – and Peter was unfortunately correct – there was no interest.  And so the World has lost a remarkable piece of history as well as a great human being.

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9 Responses to “Professor Peter T Landsberg”
  1. Alan Brier says:

    Dear Greg Parker,
    my partner Brend Cheason and I (105 Brookvale Rd, Highfield) are also old friends and near neighbours of Peter and Sylvia Landsberg. I knew him as an open and generous member of what we were once pleased to call the University community. I think he mentioned to me your interest in writing his biography, and I read the two volumes on his former school in Berlin with interest. It was a great pleasure to experience Peter beginning again to speak German with me some 20 years ago, and being invited as a distinguished theoretical physicist to speak again a conferences in Germany. I hope we can manage to get together soon – I am returning today from Chennai, teaching a short course at the Indian College of Journalism – to exchange further memories of Peter and offer appropriate support to Sylvia.
    With best wishes (unbekannt, as we say)
    Alan Brier
    Former Dept. of Politics, Retd.
    Associate Member, NCRM, Southampton

  2. Greg Parker says:

    Dear Alan,
    Thank you for writing in re Peter Landsberg. Hindsight is always such a marvelous thing and I should have written Peter’s biography even though there were no interested publishers at the time – I am responsible for the loss of a significant piece of history.
    All the best,

  3. Dear Greg,
    I appreciate very much reading your story about Peter. I was looking for him on the web, found your place and realized that I was too late to contact him again. For me, Peter was a great teacher, mentor and coworker. I met him first time in the 70s when I was a PhD student at the University of Lund, Sweden. He was a great inspiration for me and I followed him in his tracks within thermodynamics and charge carrier statistics of semiconductors. We published two papers and a book chapter together. The last paper as late as 2007.

    I will never forget his brilliance and h

  4. Christopher Essex says:

    Those of us who knew Peter from his excursions to Telluride Colorado were very saddened to hear of his passing. In Telluride he and I once organized a workshop together entitled “Radiation Thermodynamics.” I recall walking down a street there (where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once robbed the bank) while discussing how he felt that he lived in logarithmic time.

    Christopher Essex,
    and Associate Chair,
    Department of Applied Mathematics
    the University of Western Ontario
    London, Canada N6A 5B7

  5. Greg Parker says:

    Dear Olof – your mail seems to have been cut short 🙂 Could you please resend and I will post it.

    Dear Christopher – Peter and I had many discussions on Time, it was “The Enigma of Time” that first introduced me to Peter Landsberg 🙂 Something like 3 or 4 years ago, Peter was having a grand tidy up of all his papers and kindly gave me all his collected papers on Time (I was actually only after one by Godel, which was fortunately in the collection).

    Peter’s funeral is at 1:30 p.m. this coming Friday and I will be attending.

  6. William says:

    I picked up “Seeking Ultimates” a few years ago as a complete physics newbie and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m glad I found this post, I have always been curious about the guy… too bad that biography never happened 🙁

  7. Greg Parker says:

    I have (only) two big regrets in my life (so far) and not writing Peter’s biography is one of them.

    O.K. the other regret was not going over to Boston U.S.A. to check out a job offer as I had only just started the job I was in (in Oxford) a couple of weeks earlier. I was made redundant from that job within the year!

  8. Hermann Kuehn says:

    Dear Greg Parker,
    I just try to improve the german wikipedia entry about the grandfather of Peter T. Landsberg: Theodor Landsberg (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Landsberg)
    I gathered information about the ancestors of Theodor Landsberg, but finished with his father, a Rabbi at Hildesheim.
    Theodor had a brother, named Max Landsberg, a Rabbi in Rochester, and a sister (I don’t know the first name) who married the mathematician Meyer Hamburger.

    Of course you know the father of Peter T. Landsberg, the architect Max Landsberg (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Landsberg_%28Architekt%29).
    Can you help me with the first name and maiden name of the wife of Max Landsberg or the mother of Peter?
    Do you have access to the personal files of Peter? Can you help me with the first and maiden name of his grandmother?

    Best Wishes Hermann Kuehn

  9. Greg Parker says:

    Dear Hermann,
    Sorry I can’t answer any of your questions. It is a great pity I didn’t write Peter’s Biography – even though I couldn’t find a publisher who was interested – we’ve lost a LOT of history. Peter’s wife (still living) is Sylvia Landsberg, she lives in Southampton U.K. and is probably your best bet for information.

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