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Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was born in Germany and became an American citizen in 1940. A world-famous theoretical physicist, he was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics and is renowned for his Theory of Relativity. In addition to his scientific work, Einstein was an influential humanist who spoke widely about politics, ethics, and social causes. After leaving Europe, Einstein taught at Princeton University. His theories were instrumental in shaping the atomic age.
This is an inspiring book. I know quite a bunch of people who decided to become physicists after reading it. Two interesting aspects should be mentioned. First, it was really written by Infeld, though thoroughly discussed, in a daily basis, with Einstein.(Infeld was a refugee under Einstein's protection, and thought he had to justify his temporary shelter at Princeton by writing something, which would also provide some income!). Another book by Infeld, "Quest", an autobiography, is the source of this and of many other interesting things about that period. Second, this book introduces very clearly a revolutionary contribution of Einstein's which is rarely recognized: a new method in physics which consists in obtaining knowledge from the comparison of observations of the same physical system obtained by two different observers. Though this had been done before (by Mach, for instance), it was Einstein who transformed it into a new tool for science. Physics was transformed by that, and quantum mechanics could then go even further, in the role given to the observer. This story is wonderfully told in this book.
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While it would seem likely that one should go to another source to explain what Einstein's work really means and how it came about, this extraordinary book, coauthored by Einstein and Leopold Infeld, is perhaps the most cogent and interesting account of the origin and implications of relativity theory ever written. It offers the general reader - even those of us not steeped in Physics and physical theory - a fascinating glimpse of one of the most significant intellectual leaps of the last century. Much more comprehensive and engaging than such relativity 'primers' as Russell's ABC's of Relativity, it is both a very stimulating and readable account. Since Time Magazine recently selected Einstein as the Person of the Century, it seems timely to recommend this book as a fascinating introduction to the mind and work of someone who is normally thought to be beyond ordinary human comprehension. That he is an exceptional intellect is beyond question. What is remarkable is that he is able to communicate clearly to those of us less blessed with brillance. This is a wonderful book for any who have an active interest in how the universe works and how revolutionary new insights about the universe can be achieved with thought alone. An amazing book.
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Physics can be difficult to learn when theories and formulae are thrown at you with no historical context. You begin learning about motion, and then electricity and magnetism, and it's almost impossible to see a coherent connection between the ideas. Many people have heard of relativity and quantum theory, but do not have even a general notion of what they aim to explain. Like mathematics, you can learn physics without knowing about the people behind its development (though you will encounter many of their names in important expressions), but it never hurts to study how such ideas began, and how they came to be what they are today. Einstein and Infeld's book is aptly titled. They show how and why certain concepts came into being and what significance they hold. Beginning with "The Rise of the Mechanical View," they describe vectors, motion, forces, and energy. With "The Decline of the Mechanical View," they show how the behavior of electricity, magnetism, and light waves poses problems for the mechanical view. The next two (and most interesting) sections explore field, relativity, and quanta, and how they have proved more accurate in describing physical phenomena than what was previously known. Einstein and Infeld describe everything with a minimum of mathematics so that anyone with an interest in the development of physics can understand the contents. Although such math is necessary for a precise understanding of physics, the aim of the authors, which they frequently repeat throughout, is to give the reader a broad understanding of the general underlying principles. They have succeeded in giving an account of where the human construction of physics started, what has been covered since then, and where it is heading. It is a simply written book, suitable for readers who don't know physics and want to learn, but also helpful for students of physics who want to see a broader picture of its evolution.
As the authors state, ".. thought and ideas, not formulas, are the beginning of every physical theory". True to this statement, this book focuses on thoughts and ideas and does not use any formulas at all. This makes it good as an adjunct for standard texts that contain the formulas, but not as a substitute for such books. This book is divided into four sections: the rise of the mechanical view, the decline of the mechanical view, field and relativity, and quanta. It is thus about how the mechanical view of Newton evolved into the modern view of physics (relativity theory and quantum mechanics).
I would like to focus on how this book might be perceived for three different classes of readers. (1) For those who have never taken a physics course (or did and tried to forget the experience as soon as possible) -- The lack of any mathematics may be comforting to this class of reader, but it will nonetheless not be an easy read for them. The basic concepts, such as inertia, may be difficult to grasp for those with no previous physics background, but the author's do a good job of describing things. (A task made more difficult without recourse to the shorthand of mathematics.) I would, however, recommend this book only to those who are motivated to go well beyond their comfort zone. However, if they focus on the concepts that are being described and are patient in following the lines of reasoning, they should be richly rewarded. (2) For those who have taken physics courses, but do not have advanced degrees in physics -- I put myself in this group and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked this book because it focuses on the why (the basic underlying theories of physics), rather than on the how (problem solving).Read more ›
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