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Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion [Hardcover]

by Steven Gimbel
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 10, 2012 1421405547 978-1421405544

Is relativity Jewish? The Nazis denigrated Albert Einstein’s revolutionary theory 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 theory of relativity 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.

No one, especially Einstein himself, denies Einstein's Jewish heritage, but many are uncomfortable saying that he was being a Jew while he was at his desk working. To understand what "Jewish" means for Einstein’s work, Gimbel first explores the many definitions of "Jewish" and asks whether there are elements of Talmudic thinking apparent in Einstein’s theory of relativity. He applies this line of inquiry to other scientists, including Isaac Newton, René Descartes, Sigmund Freud, and Émile Durkheim, to consider whether their specific religious beliefs or backgrounds manifested in their scientific endeavors.

Einstein's Jewish Science intertwines science, history, philosophy, theology, and politics in fresh and fascinating ways to solve the multifaceted riddle of what religion means—and what it means to science. There are some senses, Gimbel claims, in which Jews can find a special connection to E = mc2, and this claim leads to the engaging, spirited debate at the heart of this book.


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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


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: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #378,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Structurally and thematically problematic 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 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent even fearless 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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1.0 out of 5 stars Ramble! 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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4.0 out of 5 stars A New way of thinking about "Jewish" science 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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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a must read. July 19, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a book that I will reread again and again. It has given me a perspective, not only of Einstein's primary theories but of an historical perspective of major political/ scientific thought. This book has invoked study and discussion at my Jewish synagogue and is serving as the basis for discussion groups. It achieves the difficult task of merging the scientific, religious and political thesis into a readable text without requiring too much background from the reader. Besides it's a "OH Yeah" of a read.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and fun November 25, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although I've read a lot about Einstein, his theories and how they upset the standard paradigm of physics at the time, this book presented a different kind of overview. Divided equally between Jewish philosophy and physics, it deepened my understanding of the period and the man. The idea that science, our objective exploration of the world as it is, can be influenced by background and society shouldn't be controversial; we see people bending it to their own uses on an everyday basis. Nonetheless, historical amplification always lends an additional level of resonance to current models. The author is an excellent writer and presents his ideas in a clear and fluent voice. I not only enjoyed it thoroughly, I also bought a copy for my brother, who loved it too.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Einstein's Jewish science
very interesting and thought provoking I would recommend this book to anyone. I have a Phiiosophy background
Reita A. Troum
Published 10 months ago by reita troum
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Some really fine ideas here. Reads as both a history of science as wel as a philosophy of science. One weakness in this book is the lack of in depth explanation of some of the... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Bruce Huttner
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceedingly Readable, Interesting, and Delightful
A fascinating and engaging exposition of scientific history and cultural relativity. Who isn't endlessly fascinated by Albert Einstein and his seminal intellectual achievements and... Read more
Published 14 months ago by STEVEN GOLANT
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting thesis
The author has a very interesting premise. As he goes thru history and explains his theories it's understandable how he comes to his conclusions.
Published 14 months ago by Jill Weinstein
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched - Badly Written
I read this book from end to end but it was a difficult read due to the syntax. The location of words within the sentences forced me to reread these particular sentences several... Read more
Published 15 months ago by melvingu
1.0 out of 5 stars Bunch of nonsense
This book is a bunch of nonsense. The relativity theory is the creation of Poincare and Lorentz, while the modern equations of gravity were derived by Hilbert. Read more
Published 16 months ago by The reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative, challenging and insighful
I hope the "movie" is as good as the book. After reading Einstein's Jewish Science, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by the author before an audience of 200 or so at a... Read more
Published 16 months ago by David A. Holzworth
1.0 out of 5 stars Doubtful
I'm not sure that the author succeeds in establishing the connection between science and religion, in particular between Einstein and Judaism. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Reader
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