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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth $6, but not the original $25 list price, November 1, 2008
This review is from: Annus Mirabilis : 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity (Hardcover)
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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