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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Isaacson's Einstein

Over the years I have read a number of Einstein bios, from Abraham Pais' relatively dense scientific biography, to any number that attempted to understand his life, science and times. The newest: Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe is the best general purpose bio I have seen. Isaacson alternates chapters between Einstein's personal life with his scientific investigations. Although there is no equation to be seen except for the now iconic E=MC2, he does a very reasonably good job of explaining special and general relativity. If you take the time to read the explanations carefully, you will understand the basic ideas. My own physics background spoils the fun at one level, but do give it a try.

In the last few years there have been a number of discovered letters and other sources that have put Einstein in a less than favorable light. There has also been an attempt to position his first wife as co-inventor of his early work. She certainly helped him substantially, but so did many others who provided advanced mathematics support. Their names are also forgotten. It's ultimately not useful to twist history for current social engineering agendas.

Einstein was no ideal family man, but this has been presented unfairly in recent bios that have tried to gain some publicity from this. Isaacson clearly likes his subject. He does cover many of Einstein's less that favorable aspects, but does not dwell on them. Einstein's religious and ethical beliefs have also created much debate as well. Isaacson does an excellent job of positioning these in the context of his times.

After reading this book I felt that I knew more about Einstein. Its balanced, and you feel that you have seen both his faults and his brilliance. Its sad also to see his early magnificent results, and then his long fight, incredulity really, with the new results of quantum theory, a science he had helped start. Much recommended for anyone interested in the history of science.

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