240 of 250 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Don't Have to be a Student of Physics to Enjoy this Book
In my experience, biographies of great scientists often leave the reader in a fog of technical complexity. While this book is not "Physics in One Simple Lesson," Walter Isaacson did a wonderful job of telling the story of the man and making the scientific aspects sufficiently understandable to be useful in grasping the magnitude of Einstein's intellect. This book is...
Published on April 15, 2007 by D. Buxman
150 of 159 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent but simplistic
It's often unfair to rate a book relative to its reputation, but sometimes it is necessary to do so to offset the impression given by other advance billings. I found Isaacon's Einstein to be a serviceable biography, nothing more; certainly not the tour de force I half-expected it to be based on its having climbed to #1 on the best-seller list. Among biographies I read...
Published on January 12, 2008 by Odysseus
Most Helpful First | Newest First
5.0 out of 5 stars great read,
This books is very good. I thought it would be interesting but so much better than I expected. This author is a great writer. I recommend book and seller.
5.0 out of 5 stars Put it on your "to read" list. Do not miss out on a masterpiece!,
This review is from: Einstein: His Life and Universe (Audible Audio Edition)
Walter Isaacson is an excellent biographer. I have read his biographies of Benjamin Franklin and this one. Both are informative and an enjoyment to read. I plan to read all of his works. Including his recently released biography of Steve Jobs. The narrator of this book, Edward Herrmann, is excellent. I plan to do a search of books read by him and see if any catch my eye. It makes me feel content with the world that writers and publishers can get together to create such a masterpiece.
After listening to the audiobook, I will probably buy this book just to have it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Einstein: His life and Universe,
This review is from: Einstein: His Life and Universe (Hardcover)
This was purchased as a gift and the recipient has told me he is really enjoying it. I may even buy it for myself.
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Einstein Bio Out There.,
This is the most accurate biography of Einstein available. I have read many of the other ones, but this one is by far the best. It tells a wonderful story of the physicist's life.
5.0 out of 5 stars Eistein's imagination,
Many biographies try to recount a person's life through an entertaining and insightful narrative. Walter Isaacson does this, but also with an emphasis on the roots of Einstein's genius. Isaacson argues that there was nothing biologically unique about Einstein, but rather that Einstein's culture and personality shaped his genius. In particular, Isaacson believes Einstein's natural curiosity and rebellious nature allowed him to reach breakthrough insights. Overall, the book is well written and accessible even for readers with no background in physics. My only regret is, despite Isaacson's repeated claim that "Einstein's mistakes are more interesting than other people's successes," Isaacson never really explains Einstein's scientific mistakes. The first half of the book deals with Einstein's youth and physics theories, while the second half focuses almost exclusively on his politics. The second half barely even mentions his search for a unified field theory, much less try to explain his rationale. Instead, Isaacson retreads the claim that Einstein's latter years were wasted. Aside from this, it's a thoughtful look at the 20th century's greatest mind.
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look into the life of an icon,
Fascinating and lovingly crafted. Isaacson approaches his subject with the utmost regard and a clear desire to explain what we might call ambiguous or controversial aspects of Einstein's life. The book certainly doesn't lack in detail. There are 550 pages of narrative biography and a massive list of sources and notes from correspondence between Einstein and colleagues as well as family and friends as well as his notes and personal papers and archival material that must have been painstakingly researched indeed.
Isaacson takes a three-fold approach to Einstein's life that is clear from the way the chapters are separated, though he does attempt a somewhat chronological approach. Einstein's life is divided into three major themes: his scientific work, his personal life, and his political or public life. I have to admit I was much more comfortable with the first and third than the second. Reading his love letters or learning the personal details about how he kept his house seemed a bit too voyeuristic to me. One can debate philosophically whether or not that is the just consequence of so public a life, but it still feels wrong. Nevertheless, the other two elements are more than enough to joyfully push the narrative along at a fascinating clip.
Isaacson portrays Einstein as an iconoclast, a rebel that did most of his best scientific, political and even religious thinking standing in direct contradistinction to the prevailing currents. This is certainly true in his younger years within the realm of science and to a certain degree even with his political involvement between the World Wars. Relativity, both the special and general theories, certainly met with a lot of opposition among the scientific establishment at the time and faced a long uphill battle before gaining acceptance. In his older years, Einstein became more attached to the classical physical world that he grew up with and was very reluctant to accept advances in Quantum Mechanics that were producing eminently consistent results experimentally. He sums up the transition in his life with typical self-reflective good humor, "To punish me for my contempt of authority, fate made me an authority myself." Einstein is a solid work with a strong scientific background that explains fundamental concepts quite well. Having read a lot of popular physics stuff lately, I thought I'd find a lot of the descriptions of the laws and discoveries to be tedious. This was not the case. What Isaacson adds is the subjective elements of discovery, the historical context for such ideas that makes them fascinating in an altogether different light. The ideas aren't stated as maxims, they're proposed as radical departures from prevailing wisdom and debated, often in the voices of Einstein's contemporaries - Bohr, Born, Heisenberg, Planck, Poincaré and too many others to do them sufficient justice. Underlying the ideas that transformed science is a running philosophical theme that Isaacson also does a fantastic job at highlighting: the nature of reality and humanity's ability, or inability, to know it, capture it, and explain it. You get more than a biography of the legend, but a biography of the turn of the century with all its prejudices, excitement, fervor and imagination. Even the quaint seems historically momentous and precious to preserve.
Counterintuitively, I found the second half of the book recounting Einstein's "unproductive" years to be more interesting than the first. I liked the older Einstein and it was a joy to read about all the anecdotes that contributed to his quite real absent-minded professor image. In these years Einstein took to politics, philosophy and religion, proving that he was not only probably the greatest scientist that ever lived, but the greatest thinker and humanist as well. Isaacson notes several instances of intense debate over political issues that Einstein held passionately. It was nice to see, in spite of these passions, that he was magnanimous when proven wrong and was quick to abandon positions that became untenable or that he learned were incorrect like his modified views on pacifism, religion and his own Jewish cultural identity.
On a personal level, Isaacson is deeply and uncomfortably probing and probably more than a little too forgiving of Einstein for several rather large personal lapses in judgment, shrugging them off as personal quirks. Skirting the issues of his personal relations, I found sections of analysis on his celebrity and his reaction to celebrity rather interesting. It's hard to imagine, even in todays age where science has been popularized by other great minds like Sagan, that a scientist, especially one dealing in abstruse theoretical and in the case of general relativity and unified field theory almost purely mathematical concepts, could garner the fame that he did, almost without effort. Thousands would come to see him and it seemed from newspaper accounts that the public almost reveled in the fact that they had no idea what he was talking about. As Chaplin once said to him at a movie premier: "They cheer me because they all understand me, they cheer you because no one understands you." I think there's some truth to this and I think part of the reason we love Einstein so much is because he represents the idea that human beings can transcend the limits of life and push the boundaries of what we think real or practical. The fact the he's still the icon for such thinking in a world where science has moved on to the truly complex and mind-boggling is a testament to just how much he really revolutionized our understanding of the way the universe works.
It was also interesting to see how the lay public reacted to such mind and universe altering ideas. Particularly exasperating for Einstein was the conflation of relativity with a philosophy of moral relativism, which he lamented frequently. The press, then as now, with nothing better to do speculate and speculate and speculate until all they're left with is absurdities. "Does relativity mean there's no such thing as right and wrong?" Which is more of a question of semantics than the result of the research and findings of Einstein himself. These questions would haunt him the rest of his life in the public forum as Nazis and anti-Semites used it to cast a lurid glow over what "Jewish science" was doing to the moral fabric of Germany or American conservatives thought were clear indications of Soviet sympathies. Absurd, to be sure, but an interesting historical theme: the uneducated, yet vitriolic grasping on to key words and bending their meaning to their political advantage (like Socialism in the press today). Einstein himself was a proponent of socialism. I wonder how that would fly in the red states today? Would they act like conservatives in Germany and Europe and use it as a basis to reject not just the man's political ideology, but his science as well? I'd like to think not, but humanity still tends to have the rather unfortunate habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's a disease in politics today as it was in Einstein's time.
Review-wise, Isaacson does a remarkable job with a lot of source material, and while some of it can be redundant, he tightly focuses his narrative around readily identifiable themes that give purpose and meaning to Einstein's place in history. His prose is unpretentious, dignified, and direct, features that Gleick's biography of Newton probably could have benefited from. With all the biographies of Einstein on the market, it's still hard to imagine any that could top this one. Very highly recommended.(
4.0 out of 5 stars Genius Yes, But Tenacity Made Him What He Was,
Everyone knows Albert Einstein--smart man, came up with E+MC2, helped create the atomic bomb--but I didn't know much beyond the hype. That's why I picked up Walter Isaacson's award winning book Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon and Schuster 2007). I like to read about smart people. What's different about how they think than other people? Can they relate to ordinary people? Where do they get the amazing ideas they come up with?
As often as not, brilliant people become criminals as successes like Einstein, which tells me we as a world culture don't respect intelligence as the end-all for our problems. Someone who is charismatic, friendly, likeable, with good-enough brains is more likely to succeed than an individual whose brain never shuts off.
Turns out, that was true for Albert Einstein. The childhood Isaacson shares with us doesn't sound like a boy revered for his thinking skills. He had the same problems as you and I, including that he struggled in many academic classes because his brain didn't fit into the teacher's pedagogic box. When he entered the work world, he couldn't find a job and happily took one toiling in the offices of the patent department. His brain continued to chug along, thinking through problems around him, but he was a theoretician. That meant he came up with ways to solve problems that were formulaic rather than drawn from the reality of the world around him. This made their acceptance more challenging in the academic world. After all, the senses couldn't see them happening.
But, Einstein couldn't turn his brain off and that tenacity is what won out in the end. Tenacity. That's a trait anyone can develop. You don't need to be a genius. How many parents rail on their kids to never give up, don't be a quitter, to the last man standing goes the spoils.
Isaacson gently shares the details of Einstein's later life, when he accomplished little and seemed confused over his direction in life, adamant about his beliefs, but not sure where to take them when he could find little support for his thinking.
Overall, Einstein's story is a lesson for all of us. He had a God-given talent to think better than anyone in his generation, but it was the very human traits of tenacity and perseverance that enabled his success and the inability to see the forest for the trees that mitigated it in the end. A worthy story for all, as much biography as lessons in how to live an extraordinary life. You'll have to engage your own tenacity as the book is a raucous 675 pages--not for the faint of heart.
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent bio on audio - 4.5 stars,
This review is from: Einstein: His Life and Universe (Audio CD)
Edward Herrmann brings his top narration talents to "Einstein", 18 discs long. The biography makes an excellent listen, spanning a long, productive lifetime with plenty of material to sustain the conversation, without slogging through long stretches of modest content for the sake of completeness.
The author exploits Einstein's letters with a very personal touch, giving a good examination of the man, who was both complex and also very simple in philosophy and deed. Personal recurring threads include Einstein's resistance to authority, his desire for solo work, his visual style and his mixed results on inter-personal relations. How easily could he write off his first child, and at the same time have deep friendships over 50 years long? Fortunately, Isaacson doesn't get into over-analytical psychobabble, which would be especially out of character with his fine presentation of physical and mathematical concepts in a book of relatively general accessibility.
Even as someone familiar with the basics on Einstein, the miracle year of 1905 where he came out of nowhere still boggles the mind. Isaacson argues that the patent office job actually facilitated Einstein's singularity, whereas an early, more traditional career might have tipped the balance enough to prevent the breakthroughs. How often that is true that great discoveries follow a series of semi-random choices that eventually come together.
The latter stages cover more of the worldwide political scene with the rise of the Nazis, the development of the bomb, attempts at nuclear containment, and Einstein the celebrity, all the while with Einstein plugging away on his equations. This cannot match the excitement of the early scientific years and the personal drama with his own family, but the bio hangs in there well enough.
5.0 out of 5 stars Einstein's Beautiful Mind,
I do not typically write book reviews on Amazon but I felt compelled to after reading Einstein: His Life and Universe. I have always been somewhat intrigued by the man whose name has come to be synonymous with "genius" in modern culture. This book does a great job of balancing Einstein's personal life, his political/social philosophies, and--of course--the beauty of his science. Einstein without doubt was brilliant, but his true genius came from his ability to be innovative and creative, to form his own opinions despite tradition and doctrine. It was a pleasure to explore the many facets and corners of Einstein's beautiful mind. There are some parts that can be more difficult for the reader to move through, like the chapter involving Einstein's search for a "Unified Field Theory" or "The Theory of Everything" that ultimately ended in vain. But these chapters are thrown in between much faster-paced ones about his own personal life and the times in which he lived. In many ways Einstein's biography is not just a story of his own life but a story of a time period in World History from the perspective of one of the most brilliant minds of the era. His personal story from the early 1900s in Europe through the worst of World War II and the birth of the Atomic Age in America make this biography an essential read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Wow,
I really enjoyed learning about the life of Einstein the genius and the man. I got stuck a little with the science (due to my own left brain limitations). The book is very lively and a wonderful introduction to many other outstanding contributors of the 20th century, some collaborators with Einstein, some contemporaries. An inspiring read.
Most Helpful First | Newest First