The following paragraphs, I think, are Kidder's crowning achievements and indicative of the book as a whole. Like much of his best writing, you don't need to understand what's going on in order to get to the heart of the issue: a human being, swimming in the unnatural world of equations and electronics, trying to grasp what he's seeing...and working under an impossible amount of stress. All that said, this scene is still and quiet, as most awful situations really are:
Something has happened. The straight white line that was running across the little blue screen has rearranged itself into a jagged shape, like a diagram of two teeth on one side of a zipper. Rosen is staring at the picture, his nails raised to his mouth. Slowly, still staring, he rotates his hand and takes most of his knuckles in his teeth. For a long moment, he holds this position, frozen like the image on the screen.Kidder earned his Pulitzer Prize.
It might be a painting of a nightmare by Goya. Your eye is drawn from the young man's face and the hand resting in his teeth, to the jagged line on the screen, which is in fact a picture of an electronic event that took place, in infinitesimal time, just a moment ago. Though it is a common sort of picture, often seen in the lab, all of a sudden it has become dreadful. But who can say why?