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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2005
The idea opf presenting Albert Einstrein's own popularization of his ideas alongside an essay setting his magical year in context is absolutely brilliant, but I can't understand why the book cover doesn't make the Einstein connection clear. John Gribbin (and Mary) does his usual great job of simplifying the science, with every single paper of the five published in 1905 explained. It even turns out that special relativity wasn't the most important! The free DVD is also a really neat bonus. Whether you think of this as a book with a free DVD, or a DVD with a free book, it is fantastic value.

Charles T. Hardin
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 1, 2008
This book was clearly put together to cash in on the 100th anniversary of Einstein's Annus Mirabilis. It is a bit or a rip-off at the original $25 list price, but is more properly priced at $6. The book is divided into 5 parts. There is a 41-page section covering Einstein's life up to 1905. Then there is a 62 page chapter covering the papers that were written during the Annus Mirabilis. This is followed by a 22-page chapter covering the last 50 years of Einstein's life. These 125 pages constitute the contribution of the authors. This contribution is supplemented by Einstein's 1916 monograph describing relativity theory for a general audience and a DVD of an A&E Einstein biography.
Let me review each of these components separately:
1) The two biographical chapters covering the period up to 1905 and the period after 1905. --- These 63 pages give a thumbnail portrait of Einstein. It is compact, covers most of the salient points, but is no substitute for any of the recent full-length biographies that are available. There was, however, one important fact that I learned from the discussion of his life prior to 1905. Between 1902 and 1904 he published 3 papers in which he laid the groundwork for Statistical Mechanics. Unfortunately, (unbeknownst to Einstein) in 1902 J. Willard Gibbs published his classic work on Statistical Mechanics (which is still in print). Both approaches were similar. Thus, prior to 1915, Einstein came close to scooping one of the most important scientists that ever lived. (Gibbs is generally ranked at the level of James Clerk Maxwell, just behind Einstein and Newton.)
2) The papers of the Annus Mirabilis. --- In my opinion this 62 page section is the main reason to buy this book. It shows the importance of each of the Annus Mirabilis papers. The treatment is non-mathematical, but still requires some physics background. If you do not know what Avogadro's number is you will probably not get very much from this section. I found that this section cleared up some popular misconceptions concerning the development of these papers. For instance, his paper on the "Photoelectric Effect" (which was not titled as such) was much more fundamental than just an explanation of the Photoelectric Effect. He used this effect as just one example of a much more fundamental idea concerning light quanta (photons). As another example, he did not use the Lorentz transformation in the special relativity paper (it appeared only the year before in a somewhat obscure Dutch journal, which he did not read before writing his paper), he derived the same expression, but interpreted it in a much more fundamental manner. (Most books imply that Einstein took the Lorentz transformations and just applied them in a different way.)
3) Einstein's relativity monograph --- The publishers used the 1916 version of this monograph because it is in the public domain, so they did not have to pay any royalty to Einstein's estate. Unfortunately, there are a large number of errors in this version that were corrected in subsequent editions. The best edition is the last one, the 15th, published in 1952. The errors are corrected and two additional appendices are included. If you are going to spend the time to read this monograph, you might as well read the most up-to-date version. (Both versions are available as standalone books, and often the 1916 version is priced higher, even though the publisher is able to print it without paying any royalty.)
4) Biography DVD --- This focuses on the more salacious aspects or Einstein's life (his marriages, out of wedlock child, infidelities and run-in's with the FBI and Senator Joe McCarthy) but not his physics.

The sum of these parts is clearly worth $6 and it is on this basis that I am giving the book 4 stars. It is a shame that the complete book was not focused on the Annus Mirabilis papers. If someone writes such a book I hope that they do not dumb it down by stripping out all of the mathematics. I would love to read an annotated version of these critical papers. Now that would be a 5 star book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This book on Einstein gave me (someone who previously knew next to nothing about him save for E=mc2) some background and insight into the man behind the myth.

Like many geniuses, Einstein seems to have been a wizard with physics, but not quite so adept at his personal relationships.

The book was very linear and instructive, although half of the actual pages are devoted to a reprint of Einstein's papers from 1905, so the read is actually very short.

However, the book is much better than the accompyaning Biography DVD program which is anything but linear and jumps around in Einsteins life. If I'd watched the DVD first instead of reading the book my understanding of what happened in his life when would have been totally askew.

That being said, I enjoyed the book very much and now feel that I have at least more than the average insight into the life of a man who will forever be remembered as the world's greatest physicist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2006
Although the new material in this book is relatively short (about 130 pages per previous reviewer), it is extremely well written. The historical perspective is more precise than in many other books. Brevity is a virtue in this case. The DVD is done in the now typical quick, "talking head" style. You put a few experts in front of a camera and record whatever they say. There are also repetitions that were obviously meant to be presented after commercial breaks. So the DVD is choppy. But there is some material such as J Edgar Hoover's paranoia regarding Einstein that I haven't seen anywhere else. Taken as a whole, the package is a bargain. I suspect with a title in English that included Einstein's name, this book would have sold much better. (Also check out "Great Physicists" by William H. Cropper, a bargain at full price.)

Einstein's 1916 paper written for the laymen has unfortunately been marred by typos from the first edition. The original printer used the capital I for the dimensionless number one. This awkward notation led to confusion when "I" was used in two places to represent distance. (First, in Appendix 1, equation 7. Second, the first I in the second equation of Chapter 12.) This edition not only perpetuates these errors but introduces new ones. Divisor signs mysteriously appear over some math expressions. On page 191, the expression in the middle should have an "= 0" at the right. On page 252, the 2nd equal sign should be a plus sign. And of course, the table of definitions added in this edition on page 148 declares "I" to always represent distance. It is almost inexcusable that a paper this important should not have been more carefully edited. There are several other publishers who have reprinted this paper in recent years without any of the above typos. So if your main reason for getting this book is the 1916 paper, choose a recent edition by a different publisher.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2005
This book is really something of a scam. There are only 128 pages of new content. The rest is a reprint of an essay Einstein wrote around 1916 on relativity. Most readers will not actually read this, so the book is itself actually more of a long essay. Which is unfortunate, because that magical year could use a full length treatment. In such an abbreviated format, each paper is not presented in adequate detail even for a lay reader. I hope this doesn't stop someone else from doing this correctly.
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This is an interesting biography of Einstein emphasizing his family history and his "miracle year" when he published his greatest work. Part of the book is an explanation of the theory of relativity. This follows the biographical section. The writing style is easy to understand and the author is an authority being an astronomer.
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