Friday, April 13, 2007

Einstein reloaded

In case the flood of Einstein publications initiated by his 125th birthday in 2004 and the celebration of the annus mirabilis in 2005 hasn't appeased yet your hunger for reading stuff about the "Person of the Century", there is a new biography out now. It's called "Einstein: His Life and Universe", by former TIME managing editor Walter Isaacson. It has been reviewed in the New York Times, and by John Updike in the New Yorker. An excerpt can be found at the TIME magazine web site - I wonder if it is says anything about US media that it is about Einstein & Faith...

Einstein on the beach in Santa Barbara, 1933 (?) (Santa Barbara Historical Society, and Caltech Archives)

It seems that Isaacsons book is strong about Einstein's time in the US, but I am not sure if I want to take the time to read through another 700+ pages Einstein biography. I found Jürgen Neffes recent book a very good reading, with a well-balanced mix of the man and the science, and taking into account now available sources about Einstein's personal life. An English translation is about to appear as "Einstein: A Biography". And for a comprehensive and authoritative exposition of Einstein's scientific work, I still know of no match to Abraham Pais' "Subtle is the Lord".

Einstein with astronomer Charles St. John at the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1931, examining the apparatus for the (unsuccessful) measurement of the gravitational redshift in the solar spectrum. (The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, in: Centennial History of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, p. 142)

Anyway, the TIME magazine excerpt of Walter Isaacsons book is accompanied by a sort of "Einstein FAQ": 20 Things You Need to Know About Einstein, answering questions from "Was Einstein a slow learner as a child?" (he was slow in learning how to speak) and "Did Einstein flunk math?" ("I never failed in mathematics") over "Why did it take so long for Einstein to get a Nobel Prize?" (a longer story) to "Was Einstein disillusioned at the end?" (no, he wasn't).

It is definitely worth a click, if only for the wonderful collection of photos, most of which are not those that one usually sees!



  1. Thanks for the info Stefan.

    And the man who had once listed his religion as “Mosaic” when applying for a professorship in Prague became much more thoughtful about Judaism in later years. Whatever Einstein’s precise faith, Mr. Isaacson says, “his beliefs seemed to arise from the sense of awe and transcendent order that he discovered through his scientific work.” New York Times

    I guess travelling roads that we never travelled before, one could indeed think of it in such a way as Einstein did? His "sense of religion."

  2. Hi Stefan,

    thanks for this nice post! The '20 things you need to know...' are indeed interesting. I am especially grateful for #17 (Are Einstein’s theories still accepted? Yes.) and #18 (Didn’t Einstein reject quantum mechanics? He believed that quantum mechanics [...] did not give a complete description of the universe.) It seems to me though the caption of photo #19 doesn't belong there.

    The confusion about Einstein's maths performance at school I think is at least partly caused by him moving from Germany to Switzerland. The German grading system uses numbers from 1 to 6 with 1 being the best. The Swiss system uses the same numbers, but 1 is the worst.



  3. Thanks for the links. I was reading the "20 things you need to know about Einstein" TIME magazine link. Point #11 partially reads:

    "The six-deck headline in the New York Times read: “Lights All Askew in the Heavens / Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations / Einstein Theory Triumphs.”"

    What a great newspaper article title! It seems that String Theory needs some of this "lights all askew in the heavens" type of verification.



  4. Dear Bee,

    It seems to me though the caption of photo #19 doesn't belong there.

    Yes, the captions of figures 18 and 19 have been interchanged. Figuring out what is shown on figure 18, at Mt. Wilson, was my creative part in the posting

    Cheers, stefan

  5. Thanks for the links.

    p.s. Ever wonder what you can do with Einstein's theory...?

  6. By the way, what *exactly* was Einstein working on just before he died? Yes, something to do with unified field theory, but what exactly?


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