I met him through Alan Lightman, who emailed me to let him know he was coming to New York to give a lecture and whether I would be with him and two guests – his daughter and a man named Dan – wanted to have dinner.
I immediately felt this, just a radiance, a kind of humble warmth, but also a very lively spirit. He was such a lovely person, so subtle and generous, an embodiment of what a great editor does: get out of the way and take away the debris that writers have put on their own path.
He was very interested in the interface between novelist and scholar. He understood in a unique way how the whole story is some kind of narrative superimposed on reality – an invention and interpretation. Science is a human-driven search for truth. Not social constructivist; There is an elementary truth. But the search can affect itself because we only have the tools of human consciousness to work with. Whatever the prostheses – telescopes, microscopes – it’s still a human mind doing the processing and analysis, filtering everything through his life, his love, the lost dans, everything.
The history of science is ultimately the history of human experience. Dan saw that there was something to be seen that defied the robot model of objectivity. All of the books he has written have one animating question in common: “What is it all? What is that all? “
Alan Lightman is a physicist and writer at MIT. He has published a dozen books with Dan Frank, starting in 1986 with “A Modern Yankee in a Connecticut Court. And Other Essays on Science. “
On March 30, 1983, I received a letter from an editor I had never heard of that if I ever wanted to write a book I should contact me: “I read your column, The Physical Element. for over a year, and I am particularly impressed by the ease and grace with which you illustrate complex ideas. “
That was very encouraging. Before the Internet, Dan always sent me a letter before anything else; not a call, but a letter. I have kept this letter and all the letters I have ever received from him.