Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture

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Overview

"A stellar array of twenty historians and philosophers, artists and scientists, and writers and critics has contributed to this fascinating examination of Albert Einstein's legacy and its relevance for our times. We are presented with a multifaceted, interpretive effort to understand in novel terms Einstein's science, music, and politics, his relationship to God and aesthetics, and his unusual position at the divide between a now-vanished world and a future that will surely retain deep traces of his unique contributions and personality."--Diana K. Buchwald, Einstein Papers Project, Caltech

"Whether serendipitously or by design, many of us have found ourselves involved in some aspect of Einstein's multifaceted legacy. This far-reaching volume of personal essays clarifies why Einstein's persona has been so seductive and so meaningful to us all."--Alice Calaprice, editor of The New Quotable Einstein

"Here is the complete Einstein: the physicist, whose many insights and achievements persist at the forefront of modern science; the man, who remained idealistic, philosophically minded, and politically engaged throughout his life; and the iconic visionary, who continues to inspire individual creativity. This is a generous book, rich with detail."--Tony Robbin, author of Shadows of Reality: The Fourth Dimension in Relativity, Cubism, and Modern Thought

"Einstein for the 21st Century is accessible to a broad readership and attractive because its distinguished authors, all experts in their disciplines, cover a very large intellectual space. There are so many fine and interesting contributions that there is something for nearly every potential reader."--Helge Kragh, University of Aarhus, Denmark

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Editorial Reviews

American Scientist - Daniel Kennefick
This book makes an entertaining, engaging and informative effort to tackle a notoriously difficult topic: Albert Einstein's influence on society and culture. . . . [The book] give[s] a rather balanced and authoritative portrayal of the man and his cultural context, while drawing attention to several entertaining sidelights of his life and career.
Financial Times - Andrew Robinson
Books on Einstein are scarcely in short supply but much of this collection feels fresh, probably because, astonishingly, Einstein's work is still, at the forefront of physics. But it's also because his life touched so many worlds outside science, including nuclear weapons, Nazi Germany, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict, civil rights and the arts.
Physics World - Brian Foster
A remarkable volume. . . . At turns illuminating and disorientating, this is a book that I can recommend to all those interested in that eternal enigma, Albert Einstein.
Choice - G.D. Oberle III
There are many books written about Einstein, but this is one of the most important that this reviewer has ever read. This work clearly articulates the complex nature of this man, his thought, and this overwhelming influence on the cultural identity of much of the world, even though it has been over 50 years since his death.
Journal for the History of Astronomy - Hubert Goenner
The book is correctly advertised as speaking 'to everyone with an interest' in Einstein's work; it makes a wonderful gift. It also marks the way toward a gradual transformation of Albert Einstein as he lived into the Mythos Einstein.
Choice - G. D. Oberle III
There are many books written about Einstein, but this is one of the most important that this reviewer has ever read. This work clearly articulates the complex nature of this man, his thought, and this overwhelming influence on the cultural identity of much of the world, even though it has been over 50 years since his death.
From the Publisher

"This book makes an entertaining, engaging and informative effort to tackle a notoriously difficult topic: Albert Einstein's influence on society and culture. . . . [The book] give[s] a rather balanced and authoritative portrayal of the man and his cultural context, while drawing attention to several entertaining sidelights of his life and career."--Daniel Kennefick, American Scientist

"This lovely compendium of essays on Einstein's cultural impact is as stunning in its breadth as Einstein was in his science. Among the book's contributors are such luminaries as Lisa Randall and E.L. Doctorow. Browsing through this book is like eavesdropping on the reminiscences of great artists, novelists, historians, and scientists as they discuss their favorite old teachers. How remarkable, then, that they are all discussing the same man."--Seed Magazine

"Books on Einstein are scarcely in short supply but much of this collection feels fresh, probably because, astonishingly, Einstein's work is still, at the forefront of physics. But it's also because his life touched so many worlds outside science, including nuclear weapons, Nazi Germany, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict, civil rights and the arts."--Andrew Robinson, Financial Times

"A remarkable volume. . . . At turns illuminating and disorientating, this is a book that I can recommend to all those interested in that eternal enigma, Albert Einstein."--Brian Foster, Physics World

"There are many books written about Einstein, but this is one of the most important that this reviewer has ever read. This work clearly articulates the complex nature of this man, his thought, and this overwhelming influence on the cultural identity of much of the world, even though it has been over 50 years since his death."--G. D. Oberle III, Choice

"The book is correctly advertised as speaking 'to everyone with an interest' in Einstein's work; it makes a wonderful gift. It also marks the way toward a gradual transformation of Albert Einstein as he lived into the Mythos Einstein."--Hubert Goenner, Journal for the History of Astronomy

American Scientist
This book makes an entertaining, engaging and informative effort to tackle a notoriously difficult topic: Albert Einstein's influence on society and culture. . . . [The book] give[s] a rather balanced and authoritative portrayal of the man and his cultural context, while drawing attention to several entertaining sidelights of his life and career.
— Daniel Kennefick
Seed Magazine
This lovely compendium of essays on Einstein's cultural impact is as stunning in its breadth as Einstein was in his science. Among the book's contributors are such luminaries as Lisa Randall and E.L. Doctorow. Browsing through this book is like eavesdropping on the reminiscences of great artists, novelists, historians, and scientists as they discuss their favorite old teachers. How remarkable, then, that they are all discussing the same man.
Financial Times
Books on Einstein are scarcely in short supply but much of this collection feels fresh, probably because, astonishingly, Einstein's work is still, at the forefront of physics. But it's also because his life touched so many worlds outside science, including nuclear weapons, Nazi Germany, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli conflict, civil rights and the arts.
— Andrew Robinson
Physics World
A remarkable volume. . . . At turns illuminating and disorientating, this is a book that I can recommend to all those interested in that eternal enigma, Albert Einstein.
— Brian Foster
Choice
There are many books written about Einstein, but this is one of the most important that this reviewer has ever read. This work clearly articulates the complex nature of this man, his thought, and this overwhelming influence on the cultural identity of much of the world, even though it has been over 50 years since his death.
— G. D. Oberle III
Journal for the History of Astronomy
The book is correctly advertised as speaking 'to everyone with an interest' in Einstein's work; it makes a wonderful gift. It also marks the way toward a gradual transformation of Albert Einstein as he lived into the Mythos Einstein.
— Hubert Goenner
American Scientist
This book makes an entertaining, engaging and informative effort to tackle a notoriously difficult topic: Albert Einstein's influence on society and culture. . . . [The book] give[s] a rather balanced and authoritative portrayal of the man and his cultural context, while drawing attention to several entertaining sidelights of his life and career.
— Daniel Kennefick
Journal for the History of Astronomy
The book is correctly advertised as speaking 'to everyone with an interest' in Einstein's work; it makes a wonderful gift. It also marks the way toward a gradual transformation of Albert Einstein as he lived into the Mythos Einstein.
— Hubert Goenner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691135205
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter L. Galison is the Pellegrino University Professor of the History of Science and of Physics at Harvard University. Gerald Holton is the Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of the History of Science at Harvard. Silvan S. Schweber is professor emeritus of physics and the Richard Koret Professor in the History of Ideas at Brandeis University.

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Read an Excerpt

Einstein for the 21st Century His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture
Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13520-5


Chapter One WHO WAS EINSTEIN? WHY IS HE STILL SO ALIVE?

Gerald Holton

The speakers for our Symposium have come from six nations to consider the work and influence of a man who, only a century ago, started to overturn the scientific Weltbild of the time. Of all twentieth-century scientists, only he could possibly be the subject of such a wide-ranging meeting as ours, with nineteen contributions to follow, from art historians and chemists, political scientists and philosophers, musicologists and physicists, historians of science, and more. Not since Isaac Newton's Principia can one imagine an analogous symposium to mark a physical scientist's legacy in such a wide spectrum of fields.

This fact demands some commentary: Who was Einstein? And why, fifty years after his death, is he still so alive, with the year 2005 having been declared an International Year of Physics by the United Nations, by UNESCO, even by the U.S. House of Representatives, all of them citing his publications in 1905 as the main reason for their decision?

My task as introducer of this volume requires me to begin with a precaution: When we contemplate the work and influence of a person with such gigantic and manifold characteristics as Einstein, a remark of Werner Heisenberg is appropriate here: "Thespace in which a person developed as an intellectual/spiritual being [geistiges Wesen] has more dimensions than the space which he occupied physically." Einstein himself, in a letter of 1914, gave us an even better metaphor. He wrote in high spirits: "I succeeded in proving ... that the hypothesis of the equivalence of acceleration and the gravitational field is absolutely correct. Now the harmony of the mutual relationships in the theory is such that I no longer have the slightest doubt about its correctness." But then he added at once: "Nature shows us of the lion only the tail. But there is no doubt in my mind that the lion belongs with it, even if he cannot reveal himself to the eye all at once because of his huge dimensions." It seems to me that the Einstein phenomenon itself is, as it were, a grand, multidimensional lion, and that in this conference, acting together, we shall try to coax the lion from his lair. Although we cannot hope to comprehend the whole n-dimensional being once and for all, each of us, from our individual perspectives, may try to map one or another of the lion's dimensions and influence, from his days to ours.

Who was Einstein? We need not be discouraged by the obvious gap between him and those who study and write about his work. After all, Einstein too did not fully and properly describe himself. He tried to do so in his Royal Albert Hall speech in London, in October 1933, where he said only: "I am a man, a good European, a Jew." One must honor this heartfelt self-description, but Einstein's most obvious omission was his role as scientist. Being a scientist was also the reason he had accepted the offer to come to Berlin in 1914, to the place where, at that time, physical science was the best in the world, the place to be for a physicist. Even during the war years and in the hard decade that followed, despite all the hardships, Berlin could boast of a constellation of extraordinary physical scientists, and the exciting atmosphere in their colloquia and publications.

How much did these facts contribute to Einstein's unique ability and daring to develop, between 1915 and late 1917, his General Relativity Theory in Berlin? Could he have done so if he had accepted a grand offer from a city in another country? My own answer is: No other man than Einstein could have produced General Relativity, and in no other city than in Berlin, with its critical mass of close colleagues at the Academy and the University-Max Planck, Walther Nernst, Max von Laue, Fritz Haber, among many-all setting for themselves and one another the highest standards and expectations. Moreover, during that "Great War," which let loose the hounds of hell for the rest of the century, during that war when much of humanity devoted itself to senseless destruction, Einstein, even though wracked by severe challenges to body and spirit, completed his work on General Relativity by near superhuman effort and so revealed the outlines of the grand construction of the universe. That must count as one of the most moral acts of its day.

The science that Einstein left us appeared in some 300 publications. But those are not sitting on some dusty shelf as research material for historians. No. Although there was often a substantial delay before Einstein's ideas could be tested or used, they are alive today among active scientists around the globe, in a great variety of new work that testifies to his genetic role, in the explicit and implicit citations of new publications as well as in the rise of new technologies. Thus the so-called ether drift, which Einstein dismissed in 1905 in one sentence, has now been experimentally determined to be absent, with extraordinary accuracy. The gravitational lensing effect, which he published in 1936, turned out later to work also for galaxies and much else besides. The Bose-Einstein condensate, predicted in 1925, helped to explain superfluidity in 1928, and only a few years ago even trapped light. Einstein's 1924 prediction that matter waves would show interference effects was fulfilled three years later. In many parts of the world, a good portion of the electricity used daily comes from E = m[c.sup.2]. The Equivalence Principle of General Relativity, initially only a courageous speculation, was confirmed most elegantly in the experiments by Robert V. Pound and his students more than five decades after Einstein had first intuited it. Gravitational waves, predicted in an article in 1918, have now become near certainty, as demonstrated by remarkable experimental techniques unknown in Einstein's days. Again and again, the headlines shout, Einstein was right.

To be sure, his image is also alive in banal advertisements, on T-shirts, in the fantasies of people who know nothing about physics. I will have to say more about this puzzling phenomenon. But a significant factor in Einstein's ubiquity among lay persons is surely that today's scientists find it safe and necessary to build many of their theories and experiments on what he achieved so many years ago.

In the last few decades, scholars have had glimpses of how Einstein's mind worked when he was doing science. I was privileged to come upon many such glimpses. In the late 1950s, the Estate of Einstein asked me to help put together the vast collection of his correspondence and manuscripts, then kept at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and to convert it into an archive accessible to scholars. Soon after having immersed myself at length in the glorious materials, two things struck me most. One was Einstein's utter self-confidence, despite many setbacks. Max Planck called it freudige Sicherheit ["joyful certainty"]. Of course, Einstein knew well that eventually good experiments would decide. For example, the very first response in the Annalen der Physik to Einstein's Relativity paper of 1905 came in early 1906. It claimed Einstein's theory to be empirically a failure, revealed by the foremost experimental physicist in the field, Walter Kaufmann of Göttingen. Einstein paid no attention to it for two years. Somehow he knew Kaufmann's to be a bad experiment, which eventually turned out to be the case. In the meantime Einstein left it to Planck to defend Relativity in the absence of experimental confirmation. Planck, who said he valued "simplicity and intuitiveness," was pushed to the wall in a scientific meeting in 1906, and finally had to fall back on declaring why he believed in Einstein's paper: Mir ist das eigentlich sympatischer [To me it is really more sympathetic]. On his part, Einstein was apt to let himself be guided by what he called his Fingerspitzengefühl, rather than by the inductive method taught in schoolbooks-or, as he put it in a letter to Max Born: "I try to capture [the 'objectively existing world'] in a wildly speculative way." Indeed he was one of the rare scientists who had, again and again, an insight of what was still around the corner-a talent that Hans Christian Oersted had so memorably named "an anticipatory consonance with Nature."

The other point that struck me early in reading his documents in his Nachlass was that Einstein very often let himself be guided, through thick and thin, by a few thematic presuppositions, which he called "non-Kantian categories," and above all by these seven: unity (Kant's own first category), simplicity, generalization, logical parsimony, deterministic causality, completeness, and the continuum.

So, Einstein's self-description should have been, at least: scientist and man.

Man

I shall later add under the heading of Man, but one main point must suffice for the moment: It is the disparity between, on the one hand, the humanitarian, kindly person with those eyes of a saint, always generous and vulnerable to pity, from his Berlin years on, constantly using his fame on behalf of equality, liberty, moral conviction-and on the other hand, the puzzling and chilling picture Einstein often gave of himself. The louder the acclaim from the world outside, the more did he feel lonely, isolated, unable to have truly close relationships like those he had had joyfully in the early decade of life with Mileva Maríc, and with a few close friends, with Michele Besso, Marcel Grossmann, Paul Ehrenfest, and Max von Laue.

Moreover, while seemingly always approachable, those who knew him well noted that Einstein would sometimes suddenly seem to leave our world for a time, withdrawing into his own, the other one-perhaps the kind of transformation which Goethe called "a loving self-drowning into Nature."

Einstein's complexity is hinted at by these and other apparent internal opposites that we shall encounter again. In studying the lives and works of others, such as Kepler, Bohr, and Fermi, I came in each case also upon puzzling diametricals, whether in their science or in their personal characteristics. But I suspect that such perceptions, made by us earth-bound people, may often be only optical illusions. What appear to us down here as contrary parts may well be, up there, elements that combine and help to produce that extraordinary scientist's particular brilliance. It is analogous to what one may call the Rainbow Illusion, because that bright, intangible display, appearing to us in its very different colors, is not really up in the sky. It exists only on our own retinas.

Perhaps just because Einstein could live with, and bridge, what seem to us puzzling contradictions in his life and character, this man was able to find unities among the contradictions and dualities in the physics of his time, such as removing the antitheses between the electromagnetic and mechanistic world-views, between space and time, between inertial mass and energy-all resolved by Relativity Theory; attacking also the antithesis between the wave theory of light and photoelectric emission; and even overcoming the epistemological differences between empiricism and rationalism, as well as emotionally, within himself, the contrary pulls of realism and romanticism.

So: Scientist, Man, and Now Good European.

A Good European

The historian Fritz Stern once wrote: "Einstein and Germany: they illuminate each other." Especially because we are meeting in Berlin, we must not overlook Einstein's apparent complexity on the topic of his nationality. Certainly he was a German, born to a family that on both sides could trace its origins in southern Germany to at least the seventeenth century. He was educated to his mid-teens in Munich, and later, starting from age thirty-five, was the holder of very distinguished academic positions in Berlin for nearly twenty years. As I noted, during the worst part of World War I, Einstein refused a very attractive offer from abroad, saying he would not want to separate himself from his excellent colleagues in Berlin. And in the immediate aftermath of that war, he worked energetically against the isolation of German scholars.

But it is equally well established that, when it came to declaring a choice, more often than not he rejected that nationality label, starting with his early flight from Munich to Italy and Switzerland, renouncing his German citizenship at the time. Especially from 1914, most memorably in 1933, after having again discarded his German citizenship, he declared himself to be a European at a time when Europe meant barely more than a geographical entity. Long before the pioneering vision of Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and Paul Henry Spaak, Europe existed as a political and economic entity chiefly in the imagination of the likes of G. F. Nicolai, whose ill-fated manifesto of October 1914 called for the creation of "an organic unity of Europe," or in Count Coudenhove-Kalergi and his supranational Pan-Europa movement of the 1920s. That movement counted among its members Sigmund Freud, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Miguel de Unamuno-and Einstein, who even wrote an article on Pan-Europa and spoke out in defense of what he called "European civilization." Again, as in his science, Einstein prophesied Europe's eventual unification, just when that was thought by almost all others to be blatantly utopian and impossible.

Today, with all its difficulties, there is of course an EU, and given the current hegemonic ambitions on other continents, there will soon have to be a stronger EU. But Einstein, the most famous and self-declared internationalist of his time, looked even beyond an organic unity of Europe, and lent his fame to that cause. He lived to see with pleasure the beginnings of one of the most promising developments in Western history-the rise of a previously unimaginable set of internationalizing institutions. With all their flaws and faults, with their wrong starts and mistakes, today there is a United Nations and a UNESCO, a World Health Organization, and similar ones for Food, Trade, and Banking, an International Criminal Court, international protocols on the Environment, on Arms Inspection, and on and on. Equally significantly, in science itself, where Einstein contributed to chemistry, cosmology, mathematics, and inventive engineering as well as to physics, there is forming now a kind of Bose-Einstein condensate. To cite only one parochial example of a worldwide trend toward interdisciplinary research: A new building with the remarkable name "Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering" is now going up next to our old physics building at my university. That lab can unite in common research faculty and students from about a dozen fields. So, both in international relations and in science, something is trying to be born, just as the man from Ulm had intuited, had hoped for, had worked for, long ago.

Still, there is here again another dimension to Einstein. While in his years in Germany he was, in sociopolitical terms, only ambivalently a German, preferring to be a good European and even a world citizen, he presents another, different view if we look at another characteristic that he did not mention in his brief self-description: Einstein was quite recognizably a German Kulturträger.

The Preparation of a Kulturträger

To be sure, Einstein's reputation as an obstinate, antiauthoritarian nonconformist and defiant rebel-even as a vagabond and gypsy, as he repeatedly described himself-is solidly grounded in many of his actions, and is lively in the popular imagination. But we find equal evidence for viewing Einstein as a cultural traditionalist, even of the kind that the sociologist Karl Mannheim had identified as a free-floating intellectual [freischwebende Intelligenz], one without a well-defined anchor in society. More than that, there is evidence that even Einstein's science itself had roots in the standard Kultur of his youth and his early years, in the European and especially in the German literary and philosophical cultural tradition.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Einstein for the 21st Century
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
PART 1: Solitude and World
Chapter 1: Who Was Einstein? Why Is He Still So Alive? by Gerald Holton 3
Chapter 2: A Short History of Einstein's Paradise beyond the Personal by Lorraine Daston 15
Chapter 3: Einstein's Jewish Identity by Hanoch Gutfreund 27
Chapter 4: Einstein and God by Yehuda Elkana 35
Chapter 5: Einstein's Unintended Legacy: The Critique of Common-Sense Realism and Post-Modern Politics by Yaron Ezrahi 48
Chapter 6: Subversive Einstein by Susan Neiman 59
Chapter 7: Einstein and Nuclear Weapons by Silvan S. Schweber 72

PART 2: Art and World

Chapter 8: Einstein and 20th-Century Art: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Linda Dalrymple Henderson 101
Chapter 9: Rendering Time by Caroline A. Jones 130
Chapter 10: Into the Bleed: Einstein and 21st-Century Art by Matthew Ritchie 150
Chapter 11: Einstein and Music by Leon Botstein 161
Chapter 12: Seeing the Unseen by E. L. Doctorow 176

PART 3: Science and World

Chapter 13: The Assassin of Relativity by Peter L. Galison 185
Chapter 14: Space, Time, and Geometry: Einstein and Logical Empiricism by Michael L. Friedman 205
Chapter 15: Einstein as a Student by Dudley Herschbach 217
Chapter 16: Learning from Einstein: Innovation in Science by Jürgen Renn 239
Chapter 17: Einstein and 'h: Advances in Quantum Mechanics by Jürg Fröhlich 257
Chapter 18: Einstein's Unknown Contribution to Quantum Theory by A. Douglas Stone 270
Chapter 19: Einstein and the Quest for a Unified Theory by David Gross 287
Chapter 20: Energy in Einstein's Universe by Lisa Randall 299

Notes 311
Contributors 341
Index 349

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