By the author of the acclaimed bestseller Benjamin Franklin, this is the first full biography of Albert Einstein since all of his papers have become available.
How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.
Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk -- a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn't get a teaching job or a doctorate -- became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.
These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.
Acclaimed biographer Isaacson examines the remarkable life of "science's preeminent poster boy" in this lucid account (after 2003's Benjamin Franklin and 1992's Kissinger). Contrary to popular myth, the German-Jewish schoolboy Albert Einstein not only excelled in math, he mastered calculus before he was 15. Young Albert's dislike for rote learning, however, led him to compare his teachers to "drill sergeants." That antipathy was symptomatic of Einstein's love of individual and intellectual freedom, beliefs the author revisits as he relates his subject's life and work in the context of world and political events that shaped both, from WWI and II and their aftermath through the Cold War. Isaacson presents Einstein's research--his efforts to understand space and time, resulting in four extraordinary papers in 1905 that introduced the world to special relativity, and his later work on unified field theory--without equations and for the general reader. Isaacson focuses more on Einstein the man: charismatic and passionate, often careless about personal affairs; outspoken and unapologetic about his belief that no one should have to give up personal freedoms to support a state. Fifty years after his death, Isaacson reminds us why Einstein (1879-1955) remains one of the most celebrated figures of the 20th century. 500,000 first printing, 20-city author tour, first serial to Time; confirmed appearance on Good Morning America. (Apr.) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . Detailed and entertaining
Posted May 05, 2009 by Ashok , San JoseIsaacson describes relativity and the essence of quantum physics for the layman in the same breath as Einstein's eccentricities and relationships with women. For many, Einstein is simply a name synonymous with genius. The book paints him in human garb - his early struggles in even getting a job, his mistakes, the occasional cockiness and above all , the genius with a sparkle in his eyes. There are some aspects of the book that may be troubling to the reader - his emotional detachment to his own family and some of his early love interests - but then what can we say about a man who spent most of his life in wrinkled trousers, sweats, a smelly pipe and a head far above the clouds.
The book really explains Einstein's position in the history of physics. It admits how close some others, notably Poincare and Lorentz, came to Einstein's theory of Relativity, but then it explains how truly brilliant his thinking was that produced the three magic papers of 1905.
The only part that gets a bit repetitive was towards the end in how it describes in prolonged detail Einstein's rejection of Quantum Physics. Ironically, the more you read about Einstein's stubborn refusal to accept the quantum theory, the more you tend to agree with him - quantum theory really begins to border on philosophy and the inexplicable.
Over all, an amazingly well written and entertaining book that covers almost all aspects of his life - except perhaps his life, not in Princeton, but inside Princeton University.
2 . In depth exploration of the man and his science...
Posted January 20, 2009 by CaroleM , Steamboat Springs, COThis is a long, detailed biography spanning Einstein's long life, but there is particular emphasis on the science and even for someone not grounded in physics the explanations of the way Einstein approached physics with his strengths and weaknesses, the significance of the work, the shoulders it was built on, and later Einstein's blind spots, provided a fascinating vision of this man. The latter part of the book also explored Einstein as a social and political phenomenon, along with his fundamental beliefs about man and the universe. I would highly recommend it. My only reservation was that there was so much detail at times that it felt repetitious, though the writing was consistently excellent and the editing thorough.
Simon & Schuster
April 10, 2007
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Excerpt from Einstein by Walter Isaacson
THE LIGHT-BEAM RIDER
"I promise you four papers," the young patent examiner wrote his friend. The letter would turn out to bear some of the most significant tidings in the history of science, but its momentous nature was masked by an impish tone that was typical of its author. He had, after all, just addressed his friend as "you frozen whale" and apologized for writing a letter that was "inconsequential babble." Only when he got around to describing the papers, which he had produced during his spare time, did he give some indication that he sensed their significance.
"The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light and is very revolutionary," he explained. Yes, it was indeed revolutionary. It argued that light could be regarded not just as a wave but also as a stream of tiny particles called quanta. The implications that would eventually arise from this theory -- a cosmos without strict causality or certainty -- would spook him for the rest of his life.
"The second paper is a determination of the true sizes of atoms." Even though the very existence of atoms was still in dispute, this was the most straightforward of the papers, which is why he chose it as the safest bet for his latest attempt at a doctoral thesis. He was in the process of revolutionizing physics, but he had been repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to win an academic job or even get a doctoral degree, which he hoped might get him promoted from a third- to a second-class examiner at the patent office.
The third paper explained the jittery motion of microscopic particles in liquid by using a statistical analysis of random collisions. In the process, it established that atoms and molecules actually exist.
"The fourth paper is only a rough draft at this point, and is an electrodynamics of moving bodies which employs a modification of the theory of space and time." Well, that was certainly more than inconsequential babble. Based purely on thought experiments -- performed in his head rather than in a lab -- he had decided to discard Newton's concepts of absolute space and time. It would become known as the Special Theory of Relativity.
What he did not tell his friend, because it had not yet occurred to him, was that he would produce a fifth paper that year, a short addendum to the fourth, which posited a relationship between energy and mass. Out of it would arise the best-known equation in all of physics: E=mc2.
Looking back at a century that will be remembered for its willingness to break classical bonds, and looking ahead to an era that seeks to nurture the creativity needed for scientific innovation, one person stands out as a paramount icon of our age: the kindly refugee from oppression whose wild halo of hair, twinkling eyes, engaging humanity, and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius. Albert Einstein was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by a faith in the harmony of nature's handiwork. His fascinating story, a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects the triumphs and tumults of the modern era.
Now that his archives have been completely opened, it is possible to explore how the private side of Einstein -- his nonconformist personality, his instincts as a rebel, his curiosity, his passions and detachments -- intertwined with his political side and his scientific side. Knowing about the man helps us understand the wellsprings of his science, and vice versa. Character and imagination and creative genius were all related, as if part of some unified field.