Lord Snow of Leicester, a distinguished scientist and writer who examined in a number of best-selling novels, essays and lectures the corridors of power and the gap between the arts and sciences, died Tuesday at his home in London. He was 74.
The cause of death was not reported.
Better known as C. P. Snow (he was created a life peer in 1964), Lord Snow was a chemist by training. This led him to a career as a researcher, teacher and administrator at Cambridge University. During World War II, he was the technical director of the Ministry of Labor, in charge of recruiting scientific talent for the war effort. He was a civil service commissioner from 1945 to 1960. From 1964 to 1966, he was parliamentary undersecretary in the Ministry of Technology in the first government of Harold Wilson, the Labor prime minister.
Simultaneously, he pursued a career as a writer. His major work is a cycle of 11 related novels known under the general title of "Strangers and Brothers." That also is the title of the first volume in the set, and it appeared in 1940. The final volume, "Last Things," was published in 1970. The titles of two of the others, "Corridors of Power," which appeared in 1964, and "The New Men," which was published 10 years earlier, have made their way into the English language.
Thus, Lord Snow himself was a man of science, a man who knew power, and a man of the arts. He deplored what he called "the two cultures": scientists and artists who could not make themselves understood to each other as a result of the increasing specialization required by modern technology and life.
He was fascinated by power, how it is acquired, how it is used. A recurring dilemma faced by scientists. He believed that those who develop nuclear weapons have a duty to make it clear that these weapons must be controlled or else some day they inevitably will be used.
These are among the themes that LordSnow explored in "Strangers and Brothers." The books are told through a central character, Lewis Eliot. They are partly autobiographical and many are set in a fictitious college at Cambridge. They have been described as a fictionazlied history of social, moral and technical developments in 20th century Britain and they have been compared to the works of H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett.
In addition to his novels, Lord Snow wrote five plays, several of them based on his books. He also wrote on the 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope and on other writers, including Proust, Balzac and the Spanish novelist Benito Perez Galdos. He admired such disparate personalities as David Lloyd George, the British prime minister during World War I, and Albert Einstein.
"Of all the men I have met, Einstein was, of course, the greatest thinker, and the one most different from all the others," Lord Snow once said in conversation. "Einstein was friendly with all, but no one really knew him. When I say he was more different from other great men than any other individual, I don't just mean that he was, of course, the greatest theoretical physicist since Newton, and no human has ever thought with greater power and clarity about the nature of the universe.
"But I also mean that psychologically -- the makeup of his psychological nature was further removed from us than his conceptions of the physical world. To those who knew him best, he seemed more incomprehensible after years of contact than when they first met him."
Lord Snow's first book was a detective story, "Death Under Sail," which was published in 1932. His last novel also was a murder mystery. It is called "A Coat of Varnish" and appeared last year.
Whether he was writing about the Cambridge common rooms in which Lewis Eliot walked, or about the decision makers of Whitehall, or about murder in fashionable Belgravia, Lord Snow's tone was civilized, if not a little remote. For example, his characters speak of "not approving of being annihilated." They sound not unlike Lord Snow.
Carl Bode, in his review of Lord Snow's "The Realist," a study of his eight favorite writers, noted that the writer never wrote a sexually explicit scene in any of his fiction. But in "The Realists," published in 1978, Lord Snow advances the theory that the richer the sex life of each of his writers, the richer their writing.
In Lord Snow's view, Henry James suffered throughout his life from "an extreme sexual timidity" which was part of "the lack of fundamental instinct that is the single great weakness of his art." By the same token, he finds that the happiness of Dostoevsky's second marriage accounts for the fact that his later novels are "senually much richer, and much more balanced between mind and body, than anything he had written before."
In 1950, Lord Snow married the novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson, who survives him. They have one son, Philip, a student of Chinese affairs.
Charles Percy Snow was born on Oct. 15, 1905, in Leicester, England. His parents were William Edward and Ada Sophia (Robinson) Snow. His father was a foreman in the Leicester Tramway Department and played the organ at a local church.
Young Snow graduated from the Alderman Newton's School in Leicester, where he already was specializing in science, and took bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry at Leicester University College. His talents earned him a scholarship to Cambridge, where he earned a doctorate in 1930.
He was a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, from 1930 to 1950. At the time of his death, he was an honorary fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, which specializes in science.
Lord Snow was knighted in 1957 for his services to the government. When he was elevated to the peerage, he took the title Baron Snow of Leicester.
Unlike many other life peers -- meaning that the title dies with him and is not inherited by his son -- Lord Snow took the trouble to have a coat of arms drawn up. It shows crystals of snow and a telescope crossed with a pen. The motto is that of his wife's school: "If you don't find a way, make one."