The first full biography of Albert Einstein since all of his papers have become available shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. Biographer Isaacson 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 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.--From publisher description.
It isn't all science. It explores his personal and political life, and the events of rather interesting times that buffeted him, and helped shape his politics.
All and all, a great read, about a very fascinating man, warts and all. Did not regret reading one single page of the book
Definitely recommended if a biography of Einstein is something you feel even remotely interested in reading.
Now, there is a lot of physics in this book, and there are sections that went over my head. This annoyed me. Although it is not a criticism of the author, but rather a criticism of myself, IF the author had managed to make clear for me more of the scientific theories, I would have to call the book amazing. General and special relativity, gravitation and quantum mechanics they do all belong in this book, they should not be removed. I understand more than when I began, but I have far to go. Einstein saw and figured out his answers to the questions he was trying to solve through “thought experiments“. He would imagine a physical happening in his head, be it an elevator in free-fall or a bug crawling around a branch, and he would ask himself what would happen and how does the bug see the world around him. These thought experiments are Einstein’s, not the author's, and they are the easiest way to understand the laws of physics which Einstein discovered.
Others criticize how Einstein treated his family. He was who he was, and I don’t see him as worse than anybody else. He did love his family. All people do not express love in the same way.
Is there humor in the book? Yes, mostly in some of the things Einstein said.
You get history too. McCarthyism and Stalinism and Nazism. What role did he play? What was his role exactly in the development of atomic weapons, and more importantly how did he see the world afterwards. He thought there should be a world organization that controlled all atomic weapons. Was he naïve? Could this have ever worked? All of this is discussed.
Religion is discussed too. According to Einstein, it is the absence of miracles that proves the existence of divine providence. It is the laws of nature that so magnificently explain the world around us and that inspire awe. His belief in science was very close to his religiosity. They are one and the same thing.
Einstein in a nutshell: creativity and imagination and curiosity require non-conformity which requires the nurturing of free minds which requires tolerance and finally humility. Einstein was a kind, unpretentious, humble man. I really, really liked this book. I wish I could speak with Einstein himself. Even though he was great he would have talked to me. He was never showy or saw himself as the extraordinary person that he was.
Another interesting question: was he in his soul German or Swiss or American? I mean, in spirit. Or was he a citizen of the world?
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Edward Herrmann. The narration was clear and at a perfect speed. The science sections were hard. For those of you who are reading this to better understand physics, maybe it is better to read the paper book, where it is easier to stop and THINK! Oh, I forgot to say this – when Einstein got the Nobel Prize, which by the way was not for relativity, he explained his scientific theories over and over. When asked if others understood, most admitted they didn’t. This made me feel a lot better when I found myself becoming confused. I read the book to meet the man, and I really enjoyed it.
In science, he made a series of brilliant discoveries in 1905 including revelations about light quanta, brownian motion, and relativity. Ten years later, with help from friends who understood non-Euclidean geometry, he put forward the general theory of relativity.
His theories of relativity were especially groundbreaking, since they showed that absolute time and absolute space do not exist. He showed that these things are relative, so that light and matter bend as gravity and acceleration increase. It was incredible for me to learn that Einstein was a poor mathematician, who had made these discoveries in his mind, but needed the math skills of others to put all of the necessary equations on paper to generate the necessary proofs.
How did Einstein achieve these discoveries? He had an incredible ability to visualize complex problems and their solutions. His general theory of relativity was derived in large measure from thought experiments which revealed to him ways in which acceleration and gravity are one and the same.
He was at heart a curious man, and also a free thinker who was repulsed by authority and dogma. Had he been a professor and not a patent clerk while pursuing his early investigations, his incentives to play it safe with his theories may have prevented such revolutionary ideas to appear in such rapid succession.
He was a fervent defender of free thought and free action, and saw the defense of these things as an essential role of government. He wore no socks, did not comb his hair, and cared little about what others thought of him. He held very strong views and was never hesitant to disagree and to state his reasons.
Einstein followed his incredible scientific accomplishments with a transition to a role as public proponent for social and moral ideals such as a world government with the ability to halt all wars. He was a pacifist who made early arguments against joining the military, then later advocated for the use of military purely for defense. He was also a proud Jew and advocate for a Jewish state, although he expressed concern about the ability of Jews to get along well with their Arab neighbors. He launched an international scientific initiative to prevent nuclear warfare.
But Einstein was at heart a kind soul, who was playful and curious as a child. He was humble, unpretentious, joking, witty, and tolerant. He was an artist, who wrote love poems to the women he loved. And he played the violin, especially pieces by Mozart, because the beauty of these things inspired him. He was a gentle man, who despite his incredible contributions to this world, wished that his ashes be spread on the Delaware River so that no one would venerate him. Still, his contributions live on.
As in his other biographies, Isaacson brings forth wonderful little anecdotes through personal letters and stories which, I feel, let us separate the man from the myth and let us know what the man was truly like. The personal letters, quick wit and even tyrannical impulses let the reader understand this complex man as a man, not a pillar of the scientific community. Not only is the young Einstein a fascinating character, but the older one - the one who spent his life fighting authority only to become the authority - also comes alive.
As for science, this book is neither here nor there. If you understand some of the physics then it will be a nice review, if you don't then you won't understand it after finishing reading either. But that's not the point of the book anyway.
Personally I found the chapter about Einstein's religious beliefs fascinating and enlightening. If a few more people in the world feel like him, that science and religions are complimentary ("Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind") this world will be a more peaceful place.
If you are like me and have trouble following the scientific stuff this book can be hard going. It is also very long. I was hoping it would contain some of the many quotes that are attributed to E. There were none.
The book is really helpful in getting the Einstein the Man - and is worth the read for that reason alone.
I heartily recommend this book to others. It's a long book but well worth the time to read.
The read slowed down at times. Not sure if that was pacing or if it was my time constrictions. I did not know much about Mr. Einstein's personal world prior to reading this and it was a solid read...enjoyable.
At six hundred odd pages including a comprehensive index and sources list this is not a quick read. Nevertheless, once I had started I did not consider the size of it until I reached the end, and then it was only in disappointment that I had finished already.
Sumptuous detail about the man and the times in which he lived. Human, frail even naive but with a fiercely glowing flame of character and strong basic principles of goodness.
So we get a fascinating view of a thoughtful and fundamentally peaceful man, living as best he can through a confused and violent period of history, with fame piled on to his shoulders together with the weight of the expectation of the easy and regular dispensation of wisdom in any area of human concern.
Some of the stranger aspects of his life, that I had previously read about, certainly seemed to make more sense when viewed in the totality of his life even though total empathy is impossible from the written word alone.
I also found this inspiring as someone trying to learn about science, and as a father.
Go read it.
Isaacson also shows the development of Einstein’s politics in a way that counters charges of naïveté and/or aloofness. The politics don’t seem nearly as dated as they might:
"In 1949 [Einstein] wrote an influential essay for the inaugural issue of the Monthly Review titled “Why Socialism?”
In it he argued that unrestrained capitalism produced great disparities of wealth, cycles of boom and depression, and festering levels of unemployment. The system encouraged selfishness instead of cooperation, and acquiring wealth rather than serving others. People were educated for careers rather than for a love of work and creativity. And political parties became corrupted by political contributions from owners of great capital.
These problems could be avoided, Einstein argued in his article, through a socialist economy, if it guarded against tyranny and centralization of power. “A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child,” he wrote. “The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow-men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.”
He added, however, that planned economies faced the danger of becoming oppressive, bureaucratic, and tyrannical, as had happened in communist countries such as Russia. “A planned economy may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual,” he warned. It was therefore important for social democrats who believed in individual liberty to face two critical questions: “How is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected?”
That is imperative – to protect the rights of the individual – was Einstein’s most fundamental political tenet. Individualism and freedom were necessary for creative art and science to flourish. Personally, politically, and professionally, he was repulsed by any restraints."
Notwithstanding the obvious struggle, I did think this is a very interesting book. Before I bought this book I didn't know much (I should say: I knew nothing really) about Albert Einstein. All I had ever heard was the reputation that he was a difficult man, without emotion, scruffy, untidy. When I saw him on tv, I thought that couldn't be right. His eyes were too soft, friendly. That's when I decided I wanted to know more and this biography proves me right. He comes across as a very friendly and sweet person. Apparently he wasn't always an easy man, but who is? :-)
After all, I think he was a fascinating man and I'm glad I read this book.
Don't get me wrong, though. There's more to the man than the archetype, although the book doesn't dig too deeply. His distant relationships with friends and family, for example, are not something I ever would have imagined, although this makes sense when you think about it. It was also interesting to realize that aside from his miracle year of 1905 and his discovery of the general theory of relativity a decade or so later, he spent more time being wrong than right. On the one hand, this is just a consequence of being a scientist, but after changing physics in so many ways, it's more than a little disheartening to see the man refuse to accept the consequences of his theories: namely quantum mechanics. His quixotic quest for a unified field theory instead of participating in the debate over quantum physics seems like a great loss to scientific progress.
On a personal note, I was amused to find myself in complete agreement with Einstein on this matter. Despite all the evidence, I just can't convince myself to accept the non-causal universe mandated by quantum physics. I know I should just accept the findings of all the much more intelligent scientists who've concluded that we live in a world determined by probabilities rather than strict cause-and-effect mechanics, but I just can't convince myself to do it.