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Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion Hardcover – April 10, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1421405544 ISBN-10: 1421405547

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421405547
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421405544
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #872,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

In this wide-ranging exploration, Gimbel... seeks to discover whether and to what extent Einstein’s work could legitimately be called 'Jewish' and what difference it makes.

(Publishers Weekly)

Gimbel spins out what could have been a mere provocation into a wide-ranging and entertaining collision of science, history, philosophy, and religion.

(Zocalo Public Square)

Gimbel is an engaging writer... he takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads.

(George Johnson New York Times)

[A] lively, intentionally provocative and wholly compelling inquiry into the Jewishness of Einstein himself and the world-changing scientific revolution that he set in motion.

(Jonathan Kirsch Jewish Journal)

Reaching back into the first half of the twentieth century, Gimbel returns with absorbing stories about Albert Einstein and his life as a politician, brilliant scientist, and Jew.

(Fred Reiss San Diego Jewish World)

For anyone interested in the history and philosophy of science, this book is well worth reading to its delightful conclusion.

(Rivqa Rafael Cosmos)

The author explores the question of whether a scientist's religious and cultural/ethnic heritage colors the way he/she does science.

(Choice)

The author and his book do a wonderful job in framing the time, and the science, and the politics, and the religion.

(Howard Blumenthal Digital Insider)

The ugly, public assault on Einstein in early 1920s Germany is the starting point... The attack on Einstein is thoroughly and clearly described and placed in its historical and political context. There is no better English-language source on the topic. But Gimbel quickly turns the whole question upside down, asking with more than a little, deliberate irony whether there might not, in fact, be some truth to the characterization of Einstein’s physics as, in some sense, 'Jewish.' What follows is a fascinating and enlightening discussion of many aspects of the scientific, philosophical, religious, cultural, and political history of the 20th century that examines the many different ways in which one might understand the suggestion that Einstein’s physics expresses or reflects something distinctively Jewish.

(Don Howard Physics Today)

To understand Gimbel’s argument about the Jewish quality of Einstein’s approach—and to perceive the boldness of Gimbel’s decision to re-examine twentieth-century, anti-Semitic ideas about 'Jewish science'—it’s necessary first to understand the historical moment out of which the theory of relativity emerged.

(Donald Goldsmith Tikkun)

A fascinating engagement with the nature of Judaism and of science. By exploring and, in a sense, redeeming the Nazi accusation that Einstein's relativity theory is 'Jewish science,' Gimbel not only challenges the racist meanings of that charge but shows how scientific theories must in fact reflect the issues and concerns of the historical periods which give rise to them. This book is certain to generate much interest and will stimulate an important and understudied debate.

(Rabbi Michael Lerner)

From its unnerving premise—maybe the Nazis were right, and Einstein’s physics is 'Jewish science' after all—to its contrarian conclusions, Einstein’s Jewish Science is a bruiser of a book. It asks questions and floats hypotheses that strain academic etiquette. With unflagging 'out-of-the-box-itude,' Gimbel reinterprets modern science and modern Judaism in a way that is sometimes exasperating, often challenging, frequently inspired and always riveting. You may not be persuaded, but after grappling with this book, you are sure to see in a new light both science and Jews of the twentieth century.

(Noah Efron, Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society, Bar Ilan University)

From the Back Cover

The Nazis denigrated Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity by calling it "Jewish science," a charge typical of the ideological excesses of Hitler and his followers. Philosopher of science Steven Gimbel explores the many meanings of this provocative phrase and considers whether there is any sense in which Einstein’s revolutionary theory is Jewish.

Arguing that we must take seriously the possibility that the Nazis were in some measure correct, Gimbel examines Einstein and his work to explore how beliefs, background, and environment may—or may not—have influenced the work of the scientist. You cannot understand Einstein’s science, Gimbel declares, without knowing the history, religion, and philosophy that influenced it.

"To understand Gimbel’s argument about the Jewish quality of Einstein’s approach—and to perceive the boldness of Gimbel’s decision to re-examine twentieth-century, anti-Semitic ideas about 'Jewish science'—it’s necessary first to understand the historical moment out of which the theory of relativity emerged."— Tikkun

"Gimbel... takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads."— New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating and enlightening discussion of many aspects of the... 20th century that examines the many different ways in which one might understand the suggestion that Einstein’s physics expresses or reflects something distinctively Jewish."— Physics Today

"A lively, intentionally provocative and wholly compelling inquiry into the Jewishness of Einstein himself and the world-changing scientific revolution that he set in motion."— Jewish Journal

"Gimbel spins out what could have been a mere provocation into a wide-ranging and entertaining collision of science, history, philosophy, and religion."— Zocalo Public Square

"A fascinating engagement with the nature of Judaism and of science. By exploring and, in a sense, redeeming the Nazi accusation that Einstein's relativity theory is 'Jewish science,' Gimbel not only challenges the racist meanings of that charge but shows how scientific theories must in fact reflect the issues and concerns of the historical periods which give rise to them."—Rabbi Michael Lerner


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Customer Reviews

That criticism aside I would recommend this book to anyone.
Bruce Huttner
I found the book to be well worth the time and effort to read and absorb the material.
suzanne e keilson
At times I considered putting the book aside but I shuffled on.
melvingu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By world traveler on July 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had a number of problems with this book. First, I could not relate to the fundamental question: was Einstein's science Jewish science. An old Nazi trope that I have no interest in revisiting now. Second, the author has a hard time making a case as to whether Einstein, a secular Jew, was Jewish enough, so to speak, to support the question. And he is uncertain whether he can say that Einstein's science was in any way Jewish science. Ambivalence does not make for compelling reading. If he is ambivalent, then I am too. Second, the discussions of other scientists and whether they were influenced by their religious beliefs was interesting. But there was a lot of explanation about their science, more than necessary to prove or disprove the point. I could not engage with these explanations because I was still trying to figure out what the book was about. I know other readers find this aspect of the book fascinating. I did not. Was this a book about Einstein, about science, or perhaps about influences on scientists. It seemed to be a philosopher having fun with science. Third, there is a lot of repetition. Fourth, this book needed a different editor. Finally in the last chapter, the author describes writings by conservative and anti-semitic writers today denigrating Einstein's accomplishments. Perhaps the reason for the book was to refute current writings. If so, this should have been said in the introduction. I would have cared more.
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21 of 31 people found the following review helpful By suzanne e keilson on July 31, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book pulls together a lot of information across many disciplines to look fearlessly at questions of definitions, axioms, and the belief in objectivity; in science. I found the book to be well worth the time and effort to read and absorb the material. He does not provide easy answers, but lays out the questions and concerns in the philosophy and history of science very clearly. I particularly liked the idea of a third path to scientific methodology. One being deductive, the second being inductive and the third being a kind of pairwise synthesis that accepts that there is an ultimate Truth or objective reality out there, but we can only see bits and pieces of it based on our perspective (reference frame) and so it behooves us to get a study partner to see more anlges on that Truth we seek. The question is whether this approach is "mere" formalism and if modern physics has become just a symbol manipulation system devoid of connection to that greater reality. This book argues for a nuanced understanding of these issues.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Davis on April 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The title was intriguing, but I stopped at midpoint. The author had no clear objective. I expected something of the caliber of Amir Aczel's books on scientists and mathematicians. I was disappointed.. I would suggest "Einstein's Jury", or Einstein's short treatise "Relativity" as a better investment of time.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Thomas D. Bostick on July 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found it fascinating. Each chapter takes up a different aspect and could almost stand on it's own. I'd never heard about the conflicts over the invention of theoretical physics (as opposed to traditional experimental physics) but it made sense, especially with an old guard of German physics profs. But for them to twist it into a racial/Nazi issue, totally unexpected, totally predictable if I'd only been thinking.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. M. Stahl on February 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title is suggestive of the concept put forth by the Third Reich’s notion of science. Tt was influenced by politics. But that simplistic concept based on racism and fanaticism is not really what Gimbel sets out to dispel. His book is deeper than that. He probes a question that he raises about the cultural and religious influences on scientific thinking. The idea of scientific impartiality as incorrect has been delved into much over the years. There is a lot to it as we see currently by the slews of journal retractions, firings and even arrests for scientific fraud. We knew of Hitler’s “Jewish” science theories and Stalin’s devotion to his genetic quack Lysenko. Science for all of its moral purity and self-correction has a history replete with charlatans.

Yet daily there are thousands of researchers toiling away with pure thoughts and a devotion to the scientific method. Men and women who know that their work may be proven for naught at some future date despite its promise today. Gimbel focuses on their efforts with a question about bias. He does not present an answer but merely poses questions. Do researchers inadvertently let a socio-cultural bias seep into their work? Is there a corruption of their science based on their beliefs? Without answering the questions he raises, Gimbel provides food for thought.

This reader was unwilling to accept that the laws that have stood the test of time such as Newton’s mechanics and optics, relativity, Boltzman’s statistical probabilities or Heisenberg’s uncertainty could be tainted by their own bias because these ideas have been studied and evaluated for in some cases centuries. Even when they are discarded for the proof of new theories on the surface they appear as science in its pure form.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Reader on October 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not sure that the author succeeds in establishing the connection between science and religion, in particular between Einstein and Judaism. He devotes pages to demonstrating that religion played an essential part in the theories of both Descartes (Catholic) and Newton (Protestant). Indeed, both Descartes and Newton were definitely religious.

However, he seems to me to force the influence of religion onto Einstein. Since Einstein was a secular Jew, he has to resort to some kind of Jewish ambience during Einstein's youth (p. 68) to establish a connection between Einstein's science and Judaism. In fact, trying to find a special "Jewish way of doing science" is one of the author's main purposes. He even says, "While there is certainly no direct link between Einstein's work and the rabbinic tradition, there is an interesting resemblance between their approaches to the problem" (p.59). He works hard to link the two. I realize the purpose of the book is to establish Einstein's Jewish credentials, but it doesn't work.

Basically, I don't think the religious angle works for any them. He lists (p. 154) all of the influences on Einstein's special theory of relativity (which Einstein did not cite in his 1905 paper): seven names from five countries. Was there some religious influence on the work of all of them? The author doesn't try to show it, and I doubt he could. Only Einstein's role in relativity was influenced by religion?

Everyone agrees that science is a steady, collaborative and cumulative effort, and what emerges from the book is less the Jewish influence than the fact that a lot of scientists had a hand in developing both theories of relativity.
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