Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein: His Life and Universe

by Walter Isaacson

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Overview

The definitive, internationally bestselling biography of Albert Einstein. Now the basis of Genius, the ten-part National Geographic series on the life of Albert Einstein, starring the Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Award­–winning actor Geoffrey Rush as Einstein.

How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how Einstein’s scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom. Einstein 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 mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, 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.

Einstein, the classic #1 New York Times bestseller, is a brilliantly acclaimed account of the most influential scientist of the twentieth century, “an illuminating delight” (The New York Times). The basis for the National Geographic series Genius, by the author of The Innovators, Steve Jobs, and Benjamin Franklin, this is the definitive biography of Albert Einstein.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501171383
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/11/2017
Edition description: Media Tie-In
Pages: 704
Sales rank: 567,066
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chairman of CNN, and editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Facebook: Walter Isaacson, Twitter: @WalterIsaacson

Date of Birth:

May 20, 1952

Place of Birth:

New Orleans, LA

Education:

Harvard, B.A. in History and Literature, 1974; Oxford (Rhodes Scholar), M.A. in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics

Read an Excerpt

Einstein


  • CHAPTER ONE

    “I promise you four papers,” the young patent examiner wrote his friend. The letter would turn out to bear some of the most significant tidings in the history of science, but its momentous nature was masked by an impish tone that was typical of its author. He had, after all, just addressed his friend as “you frozen whale” and apologized for writing a letter that was “inconsequential babble.” Only when he got around to describing the papers, which he had produced during his spare time, did he give some indication that he sensed their significance.1

    “The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light and is very revolutionary,” he explained. Yes, it was indeed revolutionary. It argued that light could be regarded not just as a wave but also as a stream of tiny particles called quanta. The implications that would eventually arise from this theory—a cosmos without strict causality or certainty—would spook him for the rest of his life.

    “The second paper is a determination of the true sizes of atoms.” Even though the very existence of atoms was still in dispute, this was the most straightforward of the papers, which is why he chose it as the safest bet for his latest attempt at a doctoral thesis. He was in the process of revolutionizing physics, but he had been repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to win an academic job or even get a doctoral degree, which he hoped might get him promoted from a third- to a second-class examiner at the patent office.

    The third paper explained the jittery motion of microscopic particles in liquid by using a statistical analysis of random collisions. In the process, it established that atoms and molecules actually exist.

    “The fourth paper is only a rough draft at this point, and is an electrodynamics of moving bodies which employs a modification of the theory of space and time.” Well, that was certainly more than inconsequential babble. Based purely on thought experiments—performed in his head rather than in a lab—he had decided to discard Newton’s concepts of absolute space and time. It would become known as the Special Theory of Relativity.

    What he did not tell his friend, because it had not yet occurred to him, was that he would produce a fifth paper that year, a short addendum to the fourth, which posited a relationship between energy and mass. Out of it would arise the best-known equation in all of physics: E=mc2.

    Looking back at a century that will be remembered for its willingness to break classical bonds, and looking ahead to an era that seeks to nurture the creativity needed for scientific innovation, one person stands out as a paramount icon of our age: the kindly refugee from oppression whose wild halo of hair, twinkling eyes, engaging humanity, and extraordinary brilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius. Albert Einstein was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by a faith in the harmony of nature’s handiwork. His fascinating story, a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects the triumphs and tumults of the modern era.

    Now that his archives have been completely opened, it is possible to explore how the private side of Einstein—his nonconformist personality, his instincts as a rebel, his curiosity, his passions and detachments—intertwined with his political side and his scientific side. Knowing about the man helps us understand the wellsprings of his science, and vice versa. Character and imagination and creative genius were all related, as if part of some unified field.

    Despite his reputation for being aloof, he was in fact passionate in both his personal and scientific pursuits. At college he fell madly in love with the only woman in his physics class, a dark and intense Serbian named Mileva Maric. They had an illegitimate daughter, then married and had two sons. She served as a sounding board for his scientific ideas and helped to check the math in his papers, but eventually their relationship disintegrated. Einstein offered her a deal. He would win the Nobel Prize someday, he said; if she gave him a divorce, he would give her the prize money. She thought for a week and accepted. Because his theories were so radical, it was seventeen years after his miraculous outpouring from the patent office before he was awarded the prize and she collected.

    Einstein’s life and work reflected the disruption of societal certainties and moral absolutes in the modernist atmosphere of the early twentieth century. Imaginative nonconformity was in the air: Picasso, Joyce, Freud, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and others were breaking conventional bonds. Charging this atmosphere was a conception of the universe in which space and time and the properties of particles seemed based on the vagaries of observations.

    Einstein, however, was not truly a relativist, even though that is how he was interpreted by many, including some whose disdain was tinged by anti-Semitism. Beneath all of his theories, including relativity, was a quest for invariants, certainties, and absolutes. There was a harmonious reality underlying the laws of the universe, Einstein felt, and the goal of science was to discover it.

    His quest began in 1895, when as a 16-year-old he imagined what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. A decade later came his miracle year, described in the letter above, which laid the foundations for the two great advances of twentieth-century physics: relativity and quantum theory.

    A decade after that, in 1915, he wrested from nature his crowning glory, one of the most beautiful theories in all of science, the general theory of relativity. As with the special theory, his thinking had evolved through thought experiments. Imagine being in an enclosed elevator accelerating up through space, he conjectured in one of them. The effects you’d feel would be indistinguishable from the experience of gravity.

    Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time, and he came up with the equations that describe how the dynamics of this curvature result from the interplay between matter, motion, and energy. It can be described by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would be like to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of a trampoline. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bowling ball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of the way it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in the four-dimensional fabric of space and time. Okay, it’s not easy, but that’s why we’re no Einstein and he was.

    The exact midpoint of his career came a decade after that, in 1925, and it was a turning point. The quantum revolution he had helped to launch was being transformed into a new mechanics that was based on uncertainties and probabilities. He made his last great contributions to quantum mechanics that year but, simultaneously, began to resist it. He would spend the next three decades, ending with some equations scribbled while on his deathbed in 1955, stubbornly criticizing what he regarded as the incompleteness of quantum mechanics while attempting to subsume it into a unified field theory.

    Both during his thirty years as a revolutionary and his subsequent thirty years as a resister, Einstein remained consistent in his willingness to be a serenely amused loner who was comfortable not conforming. Independent in his thinking, he was driven by an imagination that broke from the confines of conventional wisdom. He was that odd breed, a reverential rebel, and he was guided by a faith, which he wore lightly and with a twinkle in his eye, in a God who would not play dice by allowing things to happen by chance.

    Einstein’s nonconformist streak was evident in his personality and politics as well. Although he subscribed to socialist ideals, he was too much of an individualist to be comfortable with excessive state control or centralized authority. His impudent instincts, which served him so well as a young scientist, made him allergic to nationalism, militarism, and anything that smacked of a herd mentality. And until Hitler caused him to revise his geopolitical equations, he was an instinctive pacifist who celebrated resistance to war.

    His tale encompasses the vast sweep of modern science, from the infinitesimal to the infinite, from the emission of photons to the expansion of the cosmos. A century after his great triumphs, we are still living in Einstein’s universe, one defined on the macro scale by his theory of relativity and on the micro scale by a quantum mechanics that has proven durable even as it remains disconcerting.

    His fingerprints are all over today’s technologies. Photoelectric cells and lasers, nuclear power and fiber optics, space travel, and even semiconductors all trace back to his theories. He signed the letter to Franklin Roosevelt warning that it may be possible to build an atom bomb, and the letters of his famed equation relating energy to mass hover in our minds when we picture the resulting mushroom cloud.

    Einstein’s launch into fame, which occurred when measurements made during a 1919 eclipse confirmed his prediction of how much gravity bends light, coincided with, and contributed to, the birth of a new celebrity age. He became a scientific supernova and humanist icon, one of the most famous faces on the planet. The public earnestly puzzled over his theories, elevated him into a cult of genius, and canonized him as a secular saint.

    If he did not have that electrified halo of hair and those piercing eyes, would he still have become science’s preeminent poster boy? Suppose, as a thought experiment, that he had looked like a Max Planck or a Niels Bohr. Would he have remained in their reputational orbit, that of a mere scientific genius? Or would he still have made the leap into the pantheon inhabited by Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton? 2

    The latter, I believe, is the case. His work had a very personal character, a stamp that made it recognizably his, the way a Picasso is recognizably a Picasso. He made imaginative leaps and discerned great principles through thought experiments rather than by methodical inductions based on experimental data. The theories that resulted were at times astonishing, mysterious, and counterintuitive, yet they contained notions that could capture the popular imagination: the relativity of space and time, E=mc2, the bending of light beams, and the warping of space.

    Adding to his aura was his simple humanity. His inner security was tempered by the humility that comes from being awed by nature. He could be detached and aloof from those close to him, but toward mankind in general he exuded a true kindness and gentle compassion.

    Yet for all of his popular appeal and surface accessibility, Einstein also came to symbolize the perception that modern physics was something that ordinary laymen could not comprehend, “the province of priest-like experts,” in the words of Harvard professor Dudley Herschbach.3 It was not always thus. Galileo and Newton were both great geniuses, but their mechanical cause-and-effect explanation of the world was something that most thoughtful folks could grasp. In the eighteenth century of Benjamin Franklin and the nineteenth century of Thomas Edison, an educated person could feel some familiarity with science and even dabble in it as an amateur.

    A popular feel for scientific endeavors should, if possible, be restored given the needs of the twenty-first century. This does not mean that every literature major should take a watered-down physics course or that a corporate lawyer should stay abreast of quantum mechanics. Rather, it means that an appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry. What science teaches us, very significantly, is the correlation between factual evidence and general theories, something well illustrated in Einstein’s life.

    In addition, an appreciation for the glories of science is a joyful trait for a good society. It helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for wonder, about such ordinary things as falling apples and elevators, that characterizes Einstein and other great theoretical physicists.4

    That is why studying Einstein can be worthwhile. Science is inspiring and noble, and its pursuit an enchanting mission, as the sagas of its heroes remind us. Near the end of his life, Einstein was asked by the New York State Education Department what schools should emphasize. “In teaching history,” he replied, “there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment.”5 Einstein fits into that category.

    At a time when there is a new emphasis, in the face of global competition, on science and math education, we should also note the other part of Einstein’s answer. “Critical comments by students should be taken in a friendly spirit,” he said. “Accumulation of material should not stifle the student’s independence.” A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.

    Therein lies the key, I think, to Einstein’s brilliance and the lessons of his life. As a young student he never did well with rote learning. And later, as a theorist, his success came not from the brute strength of his mental processing power but from his imagination and creativity. He could construct complex equations, but more important, he knew that math is the language nature uses to describe her wonders. So he could visualize how equations were reflected in realities—how the electromagnetic field equations discovered by James Clerk Maxwell, for example, would manifest themselves to a boy riding alongside a light beam. As he once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”6

    That approach required him to embrace nonconformity. “Long live impudence!” he exulted to the lover who would later become his wife. “It is my guardian angel in this world.” Many years later, when others thought that his reluctance to embrace quantum mechanics showed that he had lost his edge, he lamented, “To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.”7

    His success came from questioning conventional wisdom, challenging authority, 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. Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society. “It is important to foster individuality,” he said, “for only the individual can produce the new ideas.”8

    This outlook made Einstein a rebel with a reverence for the harmony of nature, one who had just the right blend of imagination and wisdom to transform our understanding of the universe. 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 twentieth century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

  • Table of Contents


    Acknowledgments     xv
    Main Characters     xix
    The Light-Beam Rider     1
    Childhood, 1879-1896     8
    The Zurich Polytechnic, 1896-1900     32
    The Lovers, 1900-1904     50
    The Miracle Year: Quanta and Molecules, 1905     90
    Special Relativity, 1905     107
    The Happiest Thought, 1906-1909     140
    The Wandering Professor, 1909-1914     158
    General Relativity, 1911-1915     189
    Divorce, 1916-1919     225
    Einstein's Universe, 1916-1919     249
    Fame, 1919     263
    The Wandering Zionist, 1920-1921     281
    Nobel Laureate, 1921-1927     309
    Unified Field Theories, 1923-1931     336
    Turning Fifty, 1929-1931     357
    Einstein's God     384
    The Refugee, 1932-1933     394
    America, 1933-1939     425
    Quantum Entanglement, 1935     448
    The Bomb, 1939-1945     471
    One-Worlder, 1945-1948     487
    Landmark, 1948-1953     508
    Red Scare, 1951-1954     524
    The End, 1955     535
    Epilogue: Einstein's Brain and Einstein's Mind     544
    Sources     553
    Notes     565
    Index     643

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    Einstein 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 142 reviews.
    frankDeHouston More than 1 year ago
    I learned more about Einstein from this one book than with all the previous articles, papers, hear-say, etc. floating around in the printed world. Excellent writing style to boot! I am listening to it while driving and sometimes on arriving to my destination I just sit there in the parking lot engrossed in the story.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Albert Einstein is generally considered one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. It is not often, though, that people understand him as the active pacifist that he was. Isaacson introduces Einstein in a new light - as both a funny and innovative idealist. Though dense at times, the book carefully balances theory with humanity and moves smoothly through Einstein's complicated ideas. We understand the inner workings of Einstein's mind - both his social insecurities as well as his humor. By the end of the biography, you feel as though you are saying goodbye to a dear friend. The book offers the reader a glimpse into the life of this famous mind, allowing the general person to understand both his science and his soul.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The creator of the Queen of all equations, without a doubt the most famous equation on our planet, the one propounding the equivalence of Energy to mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light, a universal constant, has now been dissected once again, this time by the well-known biographer, Walter Isaacson. In this sprawling, captivating, most readable biography, the author has drawn a well-balanced, multi-layered portrait of Einstein. It is quite possible that growing up slowly has its advantages. In his early childhood Einstein was a slow learner. He learned to speak only after the age of two. And because of his slow verbal development, ¿he thought that it allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. Instead of puzzling over mysterious things, he puzzled over the commonplace,¿ the author has written. Walter Isaacson states that Einstein once explained how he happened to discover the theory of relativity: ¿The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have.' I was not surprised to read that even thought his parents were irreligious, Einstein himself believed in God, a ¿God who reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists'. Not all scientists are atheists, of course. He saw no contradiction between science and religion. 'The religious inclination lies in the dim consciousness that dwells in humans that all nature, including the humans in it, is in no way an accidental game, but a work of lawfulness that there is a fundamental cause of all existence,' he has said. When I hear the name Einstein, I think of the bust of Einstein I saw in a museum when I was six years old. The bust, sculpted of fine white marble and placed on a black marble pedestal, was given a prominent place in the museum hall. After reading Walter Isaacson¿s biography of Einstein, I felt as if the author had transformed the cold marble sculpture into a warm and beautiful statue of clay, and relocated it from its glistening pedestal to a pedestal of molded clay, fired to brick-red in a kiln. Now grainy and highly textured and stripped of its halo and made to look earthy and human, the formidable bust suddenly looks more inviting, approachable and, in an odd way, even likable. With the aid of newly released personal letters and archival documents that were unavailable to biographers before, Isaacson has written a charming and impressive biography, as unexpected and startling as the discovery of a previously unknown type of bright and succulent fruit growing on a prickly plant. What better way to conclude this brief review than with the words of Einstein himself: ¿Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' What clearly comes through while reading this book is the notion that Einstein not only had a brilliant mind, and sharp intellect, but he also had a weird sense of humor, and at times lacked social grace as well. But I must say that this book has won me over.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed this book. It was long but very enlightening.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Walter Isaacson did an excellent job writing this well-researched, inspiring, and enlightening biography of Albert Einstein. The book was a great joy to read. I was very pleased with the way how relevant concepts, theories, principles, notions, and experiments were introduced and explained in the book (e.g., the equivalence principle, relativity of simultaneity, the Michelson-Morley experiment, Newtonian notions of absolute space and time, etc) as well as the amount of space that was given to other physicists whose work had an impact and influence on Einstein's own work (e.g., Plank, Bohr, Lorentz, Minkowski, etc). The importance of independent thinking and imagination, and having the courage to abandon the conventional wisdom when necessary, was illustrated with many great examples throughout the book (e.g., Newtonian notions of space and time). Einstein was even greater genius than he is thought to be. His ability to come up with such ingenious thought experiments and see their many far-reaching implications on physical reality was truly astonishing. To my delight, the book is also full of great stories illustrating Einstein's sense of humor. My favorite story was the one that described his response to Women Patriots after they had petitioned for denying him a visa to enter the United States. His evocation of the geese that once saved Rome gave me the biggest laugh of all. This book is well worth the time.
    cannonball More than 1 year ago
    I found this book very interesting and informative. The author does a good job making Einstein seem a rather humble, somewhat eccentric, human and a genius. I had a hard time though with the mandatory chapters about physics--it's just not my subject.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    From page one the author held my interest and helped me to expand my mind. Einstein was a true genius.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This author's strength lies in his ability to switch between Einstein's personal life and his theories without breaking the storyline. Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. Also, includes very nice photos of Einstein throughout his life which were enjoyable.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    As his existence began to wind down to its final hour, I found myself regrettably having to let go of the character that I had so deeply grown to know via this very detailed and clearly depicted account of Einstein's life. A sure indication of a biographical hallmark achievement. He is gone, yet his universe remains.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is an outstanding piece if work. In addition to being packed with informtion, it reads like a novel. I have lost many hours of sleep b/c I can't put it down. The immeasurable research and interviews gathered by Isaacson were wonderfully augmented by Einstein's prolific letter writing, all of which provides an indepth understanding of how his mind worked with regard to science, interpersonal relationships, his belief stystems and much more. I hope you'll read it and enjoy it as much as so many others. If nothing else, I guarantee you'll learn a lot about the universe and how scientific knowledge used to advance. Ask youself afterwrds, "has it changed?"
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    One of the best books ever. I listened to this book on audio and I think it has to be one of the best books around. It was truly a great biography, and the reader on the audio was absolutely outstanding. In truly excellent biographical form, the author had a way of pulling the reader (listener) into the subject matter, making the scientific parts understandable as much as possible for the layperson but interspersing the personal aspects of Einstein's life at the right moment so the listener/reader doesn't get fatigued and bored. You like Einstein, which I thnk is important when I read a biography. If I don't like the person, it is not a pleasant read, and it's up to the author to create a feeling of likeability. There were many great quotes, descriptions, and I just had the feeling that I was in the presence of a fantastic part of history. Einstein was a great man of his time who not only moved science as great scientists have in centuries before him, but also moved humanity and affected the human condition. It was an honor to learn about Einstein's life and the contributions he made.
    Jalalyanwiththewand More than 1 year ago
    Superbly written. This is surely the ultimate look on the man that was Einstein from his childhood to his cluttered desk at his death. Brilliantly written.
    Sassan1 More than 1 year ago
    "Einstein, His Life and Universe" is a fascinating account providing a unique and intriguing insight to what made Einstein, Einstein! This book provides amazing details and unparalleled levels of Einstein's writings and correspondence from his youthful days in which he was first falling in love with his first wife to his later years when he was stuck in his unrelenting quest for his "Unified Field Theory". We learn not only the different steps Einstein journeyed throughout his life and what it took for him to become the nonconformist and revolutionary that postulated Special Relativity and later General Relativity - but also how he ended up in some ways becoming the "reactionary physicist" that earlier in his younger days he had defied with his revolutionary theories. Most importantly, Isaacson provides Einstein's own words and deeds in allowing the reader to see that despite the amazing humanitarian Einstein was, he was human and had flaws like the rest of us. Saying this, his love for humanity was without doubt one of his greatest motives of his life and although he would often times leave the realm of the "merely personal" and delve into his scientific work to escape life's stresses - the quest for world peace encompassed his ultimate moral value in which he believed in the universality and paramount importance of individual freedom and free expression of the mind and human spirit. Without these universal values, Einstein believed creativity stifles and the human spirit hampers in the abyss.. Truly fascinating book... I only take one issue with Walter Isaacson in this book. I was interesting in reading more about Einstein's lack of belief in a personal god and in the chapter "Einstein's God", the chapter is very terse and does not provide us many details. In addition, Isaacson takes more of a subjective and opinion based approach to that chapter. I have studied Einstein's religiosity (or lack-of) and while he indeed was not an avowed atheist, he time and time expressed his non-belief of religion and based on many of his writings and quotes, one can come to the conclusion that even the "cosmic divine" in which Einstein sometimes referred to was simply metaphoric as during a period when Einstein was in the United States, he was blasted on all sides (whether from civil society, media, and press) in what was believed to be his being a "heretic". Therefore, Isaacson does not take a fair and objective overview of Einstein's own words throughout his life in which Isaacson jumps to the conclusion based on a lack of an overall review of Einstein's quotes and thoughts throughout Einstein's years in asserting that Einstein believed in a "divine providence" - although, Isaacson at least does admit that Einstein did not believe in a personal god. But overall, that chapter on "Einstein's God" was the only chapter that was quite terse and was based more on subjectivity rather than objectivity. Great book, and I recommend it to EVERYONE!
    Azpooldude More than 1 year ago
    Winner of Time Magazines person of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein was a legend in his own time and his scientific ideas continue to live on today. Walter Isaacson's recent biography, Einstein His Life and Universe, is an in depth look at this icon, his life, ideas and tribulations. Born in Germany, this boy genius was a rebel and not a very good student when he was young. Unhappy with authority and the Prussian mind set of strict discipline, he found a better life for free thinkers in neighboring Switzerland. A graduate of The Zurich Polytechnic and later an employee at the the Bern Patent Office, he had a hard time finding work. His desire to work at more respectable universities were often met with letters of rejection. With a chaotic marriage, coupled with child custody problems and a later divorce, it is a miracle that this man came up with such breakthroughs in theoretical physics. But he did and it changed the lives of humanity to this day. Isaacson, does a good job in his book of not only covering Einstein's life but describes his theories of Special and General Relativity; with later introductions to Quantum Theory, that a "smart" layman can understand. I had to re-read the juicy scientific parts a few times to digest it, but it was worth the effort. Later in his life, Einstein wrestled with a unified field theory that would unite gravity and electromagnetism with the crazy unpredictable micro world of Quantum Mechanics. He did not have much success but did make some interesting observations and had many theories and opinions on this new and strange small atomic world. Being world famous and on the speakers circuit, Einstein was thrown into the political mix of the 1920's and 1930's and eventually made decisions that would later affect his life. An early believer in a Jewish state, he helped the Zionist movement and the creation of a Hebrew university in Israel. A staunch opponent to militant nationalism politics, he unknowingly endorsed anti war Communist front group causes and later was seen as a risk to national security during World War Two. But, there was no doubt that he was a proud American. Einstein would joke that he was not a Pacifist, but a militant pacifist. His utopia vision for the world was a one world benevolent government that ensured individual freedoms and encouraged free thought. As for the development of the A-Bomb, Einstein was not a active participant in its construction, but his famous equation of, e=mc2, was the building block that helped make it. This book is an enjoyable read because it covers all parts of Einstein's life to include the lighter side of this deep thinker. His love of life, his love of people and his quick witted humor and absentmindedness is a trait that many people equate with this great man. One example is when he would take his hat off during a rainstorm saying that he knew that his hair could withstand the rain but he was unsure of how his hat would hold up. He would listen to his students ideas and theories and even help small children in his neighborhood with their math homework. I have read other books on Albert Einstein, but I would recommend that this one be put on the list of favorites. Some are not as complete, while others deal mainly with his science- but this one is a pleasant mixture of both. I enjoyed this book and found it informative, educational and interesting on the life of this human legend. Robert Glasker
    JamieBowen0306 More than 1 year ago
    I'm not altogether sure about it. Growing up, we all learn a fair bit about Einstein, and anyone who studies Science for any period of time probably "hero worships" him a little (as the epitome of all things scientific at least). He's probably the most famous scientist on Earth, and everyone who is aware of anything in science knows his famous equation. Despite the fact that I wanted to like Einstein and I've a Chemistry degree, I found the book a hard read. I suspect most people might agree with me. Non-scientists might think about the science involved "a challenge," most people will think he wasn't pleasant to his first wife and kids, by the end of this book, and most might find him egocentric, and a little inflexible by the end of the book. If you can cope with the sensation that your ideals about a hero have been shattered, read this book. If you can't don't. I guarentee you will have a more rounded, and less likeable, view of the man by the end of this book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Unlike Isabella, I was glued to this book. While I still dont get most of the physics in it, I got a picture of the process and the context in which 20th century physics developed in a way I never have before. Also, the picture painted of Einstein is complex and complete.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Any criticism leveled against Isaacson¿s book has to be counterbalanced by a recognition of the tremendous effort and importance of the work, such as his ability to recaptured Einstein¿s life through the many letters by and to him and by an ability to explain many of his most important ideas in a deep and superb way. The missing star in my rating is because of what the book does not do. Occasionally critical of Albert Einstein, ultimately the book is a hagiography. As with the rest of the mainstream, Isaacson is really blind to Einstein¿s shortcomings. His theory of relativity, on the whole, is a true mish-mash, that, in the last analysis, makes little sense. Several problems with his theory have to do with (1) the arbitrary decision to do away with the ether, and (2) place the subjective view on a pedestal while at the same time eliminate the very consciousness of the viewer as a force in and of itself, or a space (e.g., a 5th dimension of hyperspace for mind). For instance, Isaacson points out that if a lady is on a plane looking down on the Earth, she can¿t tell if the plane is moving over the Earth or the Earth is moving under a stationary plane. This is a bedrock of Einstein¿s relativity theory, a highly subjective observation that ignores the elephant in the room, the movement of the Earth around the Sun, the absolute measure Einstein keeps trying to eliminate. The Michelson-Morley experiment didn¿t do away with the ether. Nor did Einstein. Both simply suggested that the ether could not be detected. So even though Einstein lectures on the ether and states to Lorentz that an ether must exist, he also realized that if indeed it did exist, then his theory of relativity would be wrong. The idea that space can be curved, as Tesla pointed out in the newspapers, is absurd. Since Einstein has ascribed properties to space, it cannot be empty. It is, in fact, the ether, and the reason why light bends around or towards stars is potentially twofold, (a) photons may have mass, and (2) as with all matter, stars are constantly absorbing ether in order to keep their elementary particles spinning. Ether theory explains gravity and its link to acceleration because what we call gravity most likely the absorption of ether by the mass of the planet (or star). According to this theory, we are held to the planet because we are in the way of this constant influx of energy. Had Einstein truly resurrected the ether, (he partly does, as Isaacson notes, once de Broglie¿s wave theory becomes more prevalent) Einstein may have solved his grand unification theory, but it would have been at the expense of his baby, the theory of relativity. Another problem with his theory is that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. However, as Gamow points out in Thirty Years That Shook Physics, and I point out in my book Transcending the Speed of Light, electrons spin at speeds in excess of the speed of light! Following in the steps of Minkowski who used the imaginary number the square root of negative one to make the one dimension of time equivalent to 3D space, Paul Dirac essentially did the same thing to account for the spinning electron that violated relativity with his Nobel Prize winning equations that tied relativity to quantum mechanics. Isaacson¿s book completely miscasts Minkowski, doesn¿t even mention the idea of imaginary numbers (which can only exist in the mind, yet are used to explain the physical world), and thereby helps relegate Minkowski to virtual non-person status. This is a super book, but flawed because of the rose colored glasses that are always used to portray a great thinker with a flawed theory that will ultimately be upturned.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I love 'bios' and was excited when my son gave me this book. I was quickly bored by the author. I was not glued to this book as I have been with other biographies, the author lacks passion when he writes about all of Einsteins' accomplishments and his life. I couldn't wait to finish reading it, not because it was entertaining, but because I had another book I wanted to read.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The popular myths about Einstein are dispelled, as is the one dimensional image of the absent minded professor. While some parts of the book are very detailed in scientific theory and mathematical calculations, the overall picture of Einstein is facinating. What kept me reading through all the dense science and math was the incredible way the author wove scientific thought and invention into the social, political and economic realities of the times. Einstein's personal life will also amaze and the multiple layers of his personality are facinating.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    this book is a jouney through the life and times of one of the most brillant men in history. it takes you on a ride from beginning to end
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    With Einstein the universe changed. It became more dynamic, less mechanical, and somewhat un-understandable to our common, logical minds. Time and space became integrated as never before. If you want to learn about Albert Einstein, I highly recommend this book. His universe is mind blowing his personal story is fascinating too. Frank Scoblete: author of Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution! and Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution!
    Clif on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a well written biography of the famous physicist. Unfortunately, the details of his family life are not as outstanding as his abilities as as scientist. Read in August, 2007
    LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    An excellent biography of an extraordinary person. Mr. Isaacson's book about Dr. Einstein is well researched, well written, and takes us well beyond the science and the physicist. Mr. Isaacson describes Einstein's life, as well as the political and scientific culture he lived in. At times the science was a bit daunting (I read "Einstein for Dummies", which helped; other reviewers said they skipped those parts), but at other times, the book was actually quite humourous and portrayed a very real human being. I guess the best thing I can say about this book is how it inspired me to read "Einstein for Dummies", Einstein's own book "Relativity", and to re-read "Driving Mr. Albert" in which a reporter tracks down the pathologist who stole Dr. Einstein's brain, and after many years, decided to return it to the family.
    tbert204 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Isaacson assembles a biography with enough details to make a high school English student puke, but it creates a complete picture of one of the world's most famous scientists. Einstein's charisma is clearly illustrated in this text, from personal relationships to his obsessive pursuit to explain the universe. It took me 6 weeks to read partly because I'm a slow reader, partly because the book is heavy, but mostly because I enjoyed the ride. I'm no physics major but managed to comprehend many of Isaacson's presentations of Einstein's theories and thought experiments, most of which I've forgotten by now. By and far, it was most satisfying to look inside his personal life, how he married his cousin (you read that right), never wore socks, was truly absent-minded, and was still working on his theories on his deathbed.
    GShuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Great book that makes you understand why Einstein was as icon. It was three books in one. It was a biography, overview of his physics theories (in layman¿s language) and impacts of being Jewish in Germany during world war one & two. What really surprised me was that he struggled to get a professorship as well as his impact on the world stage away from physics. He was a remarkable person for his accomplishments in physics and beyond and this book brought his story and the times in which he lived to life.