Original material: The papers document Peierls's career and activity up to 1974, the year of his retirement from the Wykeham Chair at Oxford University. They consist almost entirely of correspondence written and received by Peierls, covering all aspects of his career, including scientific research, service on committees and advisory boards, publications, visits and conferences and appointments. Of particular interest are the extended exchanges of correspondence with H.A. Bethe, N. Bohr, N.F. Mott and W. Pauli, and shorter correspondence with M. Born, L.D. Landau, G. Placzek, J.R. Oppenheimer and others. Peierls himself drafted or approved the catalogue entries for these principal correspondents of his earlier years. The correspondence also shows the activity and international reputation of Peierls's departments at Birmingham and Oxford. Many distinguished scientists were guided by him in the early stages of their careers and his concern for their selection, research progress and subsequent career is very much in evidence. There are also many recollections and accounts by Peierls and others of episodes in his career, some associated with the retirement symposium held in Oxford in 1974.
Supplementary material: The papers form a substantial complement to the original deposit of papers. They comprise not only continuing material for Peierls's activities since 1974, but early correspondence and papers relating to his family and career.
Biographical and personal papers are the largest component, providing new material on Peierls's own career and opinions, and on his many honours and awards. Of special interest are the family papers and correspondence, notably from Peierls's father and step-mother who remained in Berlin until 1939. There is also some material relating to his wife Genia, including his letters to her during their long-distance courtship, written in English, German and Russian, and correspondence with the hostesses of their children evacuated to Canada during the Second World War. The lighter side of their life together is shown in the verses and sketches for some of their famous parties and celebrations, and their circular letters to family and friends are invaluable in keeping track of the nomadic life they both enjoyed.
Research and teaching material relates to work after 1974. Because of Peierls's constant travel and lack of a permanent base, much of his thinking and research was conducted by correspondence, and thus is often better documented than earlier work on ephemeral blackboards or rough paper. Papers on weapons control and security expand some of the material in the original deposit, and reflect Peierls's continuing concern with the problems of international control of atomic and nuclear weapons and include his long-term commitment to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Papers on the history of twentieth century science and scientists include some original material relating to the 'Frisch-Peierls memorandum' of 1940 on the feasibility of an atomic weapon. There are also many recollections and tributes for leading figures in twentieth century science, almost all drawn from Peierls's own knowledge and contacts, and including many notable German and Russian scientists. His recollections continued to be extensively called upon by writers and researchers, and published in his own frequent reviews of books and memoirs.
Publications and editorial papers include full documentation of Peierls's long service on the Editorial Board of Contemporary Physics and also of the publication of his own later books including Bird of Passage, Surprises in Theoretical Physics and its sequel More Surprises... There is also a little material relating to radio, television and films, most of which relates to atomic bomb history. Documentation of committees, societies and consultancies is not extensive, as Peierls spent much of his retirement years abroad. There is, however, material on his consultancies with the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, and the Science and Engineering Council Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory. By contrast the substantial material relating to visits, lectures and conferences records the constant travel which Peierls and his wife planned and carried out for their retirement, and which continued after her death in 1986. Particularly well documented is his long association with the University of Washington at Seattle.
The scientific correspondence and references and recommendations relate, with few exceptions, to the post-1974 period. Not all of the retirement correspondence is easy to read. Although Peierls typed most of his own correspondence, he was by his own admission a negligent proof-reader, and many of his carbon copies are in addition on somewhat poor quality paper, and fading. Later he used a succession of word-processors and sophisticated printers but by then his eyesight had begun to fail, and this, together with his proof-reading weakness, allowed many errors to slip through which require a measure of intuition to decipher.