Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Reveiw: Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007) by Walter Isaacson

Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007)
Walter Isaacson

Albert Einstein must be a difficult subject for any biographer, but Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe is engaging and eloquent. This is, we are told, the first full-scale biography of Einstein since his papers became available to historians. Assuming that little new scholarly material of this magnitude is likely to emerge soon, this book seems destined to remain the essential Einstein biography for years to come.

By necessity, Isaacson must present quite a few complex concepts in modern physics, including the theories of special and general relativity, and make them understandable to the general reader. But even more remarkable is Isaacson's description of the complexities of Einstein the man. We get to see Einstein as student, nonconformist, lover, husband, father, teacher, patent clerk, theoretical physicist, philosopher, theologian, humanist, pacifist, celebrity, and Zionist. Through it all, Isaacson gives us a very well-considered and nuanced assessment of Einstein, the greatest name in 20th century physics.

On a more personal note, as many may already know, Albert Einstein granted permission for a new medical school in New York City to use his name. That particular fact is too trivial for inclusion in the 551 pages of biographical text, but happily it does merit a footnote on page 636.


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