Einstein Defiant: Genius versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Overview

"I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist." -Albert Einstein

A scandal hovers over the history of 20th century physics. Albert Einstein -- the century's greatest physicist -- was never able to come to terms with quantum mechanics, the century's greatest theoretical achievement. For physicists who routinely use both quantum laws and Einstein's ideas, this contradiction can be almost too embarrassing to dwell on. Yet Einstein was one of the founders of quantum physics and he spent many years preaching the quantum's importance and its revolutionary nature.

The Danish genius Neils Bohr was another founder of quantum physics. He had managed to solve one of the few physics problems that Einstein ever shied away from, linking quantum mathematics with a new model of the atom. This leap immediately yielded results that explained electron behavior and the periodic table of the elements.

Despite their mutual appreciation of the quantum's importance, these two giants of modern physics never agreed on the fundamentals of their work. In fact, they clashed repeatedly throughout the 1920s, arguing first over Einstein's theory of "light quanta"(photons), then over Niels Bohr's short-lived theory that denied the conservation of energy at the quantum level, and climactically over the new quantum mechanics that Bohr enthusiastically embraced and Einstein stubbornly defied.

This contest of visions stripped the scientific imagination naked. Einstein was a staunch realist, demanding to know the physical reasons behind physical events. At odds with this approach was Bohr's more pragmatic perspective that favored theories that worked, even if he might not have a corresponding explanation of the underlying reality. Powerful and illuminating, Einstein Defiant is the first book to capture the soul and the science that inspired this dramatic duel, revealing the personalities and the passions -- and, in the end, what was at stake for the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Albert Einstein sought throughout his career to understand the ways of "the Old One," his nickname for the deity. Not one to chase after theory just because the math worked, Einstein adopted an equation like E = mc2 only if he could demonstrate how it played out in the physical world. Nor did he believe that the Old One was capricious, letting a photon of light masquerade as a particle one moment, as a wave the next. Einstein always sought to explain an unambiguous, consistent reality. As author Bolles (The Ice Finders, etc.) shows, this placed him at loggerheads with Niels Bohr and his Copenhagen school of quantum physics. Bohr was the pragmatist to Einstein's purist, looking for theories that worked, whether or not they made sense. Bolles conjures up the lost world of Europe between the wars, an era when readers would snatch up newspapers with Einstein's latest paper printed on the front page. In addition to his flair for bringing to life the cultural background of Einstein and Bohr's scientific battle (with occasional slips: Schoenberg did not compose the opera Wozzeck), Bolles exhibits a marvelous facility in explaining the intricacies of relativity and the world inside the atom. Readers who can never keep the three B's-Bohr, Born and de Broglie-straight will know what their roles were in 20th-century physics by the end of the book, which is highly recommended for science buffs as well as readers of biography and cultural history. (On sale Apr. 6) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bolles (The Ice Finders; Galileo's Commandment) retells the story of modern physicists' struggle to reach a full understanding of quantum physics. His account centers on the debate between two scientific giants, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, who famously took opposing sides on the quantum issue. Bolles's hero is Einstein, who argued until his death that there must be an ultimate physical reality beneath the mathematically successful and experimentally valid quantum mechanics of Bohr and his colleagues. Bolles's book is colorful, readable, and well explains Einstein's reservations about quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, much of the color is made up of personal details about Einstein and Bohr that are not germane to the intriguing intellectual issues discussed. There is also a plethora of unnecessarily disparaging comments about Bohr and his style of physics. Recommended with reservations chiefly to libraries with extensive science collections.-Jack W. Weigel, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309089982
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 4/9/2004
  • Pages: 356
  • Product dimensions: 6.15 (w) x 9.15 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

A radical fact resisted
1 The opposite of an intriguer 3
2 Not German at all 12
3 I never fully understood it 26
4 Independence and inner freedom 35
5 A mercy of fate 51
6 Picturesque phrases 57
7 Scientific dada 68
8 Such a devil of a fellow 76
9 Intuition and inspiration 86
10 Bold, not to say reckless 94
11 A completely new lesson 102
12 Slaves to time and space 110
13 Where all weaker imaginations wither 116
14 A triumph of Einstein over Bohr 127
A radical theory created
15 Something deeply hidden 137
16 Completely solved 146
17 Exciting and exacting times 162
18 Intellectual drunkenness 184
19 The observant executrix 195
20 It might look crazy 204
21 Taking nothing solemnly 211
22 How much more gratifying 218
A radical understanding defied
23 Sorcerer's multiplication 229
24 Adding two nonsenses 236
25 Admiration and suspicion 241
26 An unrelenting fanatic 248
27 The secret of the old one 251
28 Indeterminacy 256
29 A very pleasant talk 264
30 The dream of his life 276
31 The saddest chapter 285
32 A reality independent of man 293
33 A certain unreasonableness 299
Afterword 305
Bibliography 309
Sources 317
Index 337
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