- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Chamberlain Bros.; Har/DVD edition (March 29, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596091444
- ISBN-13: 978-1596091443
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,204,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Annus Mirabilis: 1905, Albert Einstein, and the Theory of Relativity Har/DVD Edition
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About the Author
John Gribbin, Ph.D., trained as an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge before becoming a full-time science writer. His books include the highly acclaimed In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, The First Chimpanzee, In Search of the Big Bang, In the Beginning, In Search of the Edge of Time, In Search of the Double Helix, The Stuff of the Universe (with Martin Rees), Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science, and Einstein: A Life in Science (with Michael White). He lives in East Sussex with his wife and two sons.
Mary Gribbinis best known as a writer of science books for young readers. Together with her husband, John Gribbin, she has written several science books, including Richard Feynman: A Life in Science and Ice Age.
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Top Customer Reviews
Like many geniuses, Einstein seems to have been a wizard with physics, but not quite so adept at his personal relationships.
The book was very linear and instructive, although half of the actual pages are devoted to a reprint of Einstein's papers from 1905, so the read is actually very short.
However, the book is much better than the accompyaning Biography DVD program which is anything but linear and jumps around in Einsteins life. If I'd watched the DVD first instead of reading the book my understanding of what happened in his life when would have been totally askew.
That being said, I enjoyed the book very much and now feel that I have at least more than the average insight into the life of a man who will forever be remembered as the world's greatest physicist.
Einstein went through stages where he was deeply religious and then appalled by the German military machine. He spent sometime switching schools in Italy and in Switzerland. Albert preferred Switzerland and aimed to get into their higher education system. His lack of respect for his teachers and professors did not stop him from wanting to become one. He was lucky enough when growing up that his Jewish family followed the tradition of inviting students, in this case a graduate student in physics, to their home for Sunday dinner. Young Albert was exposed to advanced mathematics and was lent books and helped in his own self-study of mathematics
and science by the graduate student.
Albert seemed to enjoy interacting with other intelligent people, and was helped in developing his new approach to physics by sharing thoughts. As he went to more advanced schools he seem to go to class even less. He also seemed to be a social swinger. He had an ongoing affair with Milevia Maric a fellow Physics graduate student. She was unusual for the time since very few women we're allowed entrance to the university especially as Physics majors. She gets pregnant and they get married despite his family's opposition. A daughter is born and no one seems to know what happened to her. Albert's general attitude made it difficult for him to progress at the university, but he impressed enough people to get some help. During this period he was constantly making progress with his innovative ideas and his approaches to problems. It was important that he got a job as a Swiss patent clerk with a reliable salary. He and Milevia had two more babies.
Milevia checked Albert's mathematics, this was helpful since he made frequent math mistakes. Most biographers don't attribute any of the innovative ideas to her, but this year they worked together was by far the most productive in Einstein's career. For whatever reason during this period he produced at least four very innovative works.
The author gives you a good picture of the state of physics at the time Einstein was doing this work. He also gives some historical development of the different concepts. Einstein used the viscosity of sugar water and it's osmotic pressure in two equations that included both Avogadro’s number and the size of the sugar molecule. With two equations and two unknowns it was simple to solve for both the size and number sugar molecules. This paper Is considered the most ordinary of the four papers, but the most cited as it deals with everyday phenomena. When the best experimental data available at the time was put into the equation the results for Avogadro’s number were quite good and agreed closely with our most modern results. This also added to the proof for the existence of atoms and molecules.
In the case of describing the Brownian movement Einstein was actually interested in proving the existence of atoms and molecules. The idea was that the pollen particles in the sugar solution were being hit by molecules of sugar and water. Statistically sometimes a specific part of pollen would be struck with many more molecules and would then be moved randomly as groups of molecules hit the pollen randomly in different directions. At this time atoms and molecules we're not proven to exist and this was one of the first proofs of the existence of atoms and molecules. It just happened to explain the Brownian movement in addition. The average pollen displacement could be found experimentally and Avogadro’s number could be checked. Later experiments agreed with Einstein's predictions. This work showed the reality of molecules and atoms and the validity of kinetic theory. It also had implications in any area that uses solutions of chemicals. This includes many everyday applications. Einstein had a habit of making predictions, that could be checked by experiment, based on his theories. The idea of using random events with statistical methods has wide application.
At this time there were experiments showing that light acted like a wave while other experiments such as the photoelectric effect showed clearly that light was made of particles called photons. Einstein made the point that the optical experiments showing light as a wave are average measurements over fairly long time periods. This meant that the actual phenomena could be due to large numbers of very small photons that on average appeared to be a wave. For example ocean waves are made up of a huge number water molecules. In the paper he concludes that for thermodynamic properties (entropy for instance), a gas behaves as if it is made up of huge number of atoms and molecules and electromagnetic radiation behaves as if it is also made up of many tiny photons. He is saying that there is no difference between matter and light.
He uses this idea to explain the photoelectric effect, where ultraviolet light hitting a metal surface causes electrons to be emitted. If you shine a UV laser on a piece of metal, electrons will be emitted with a certain amount of kinetic energy. If you use 10 lasers then you will have 10 times the electrons emitted each with the same kinetic energy. If you use a laser that has insufficient energy, for instance red light, then no electrons are emitted. Add a dozen more red light lasers or a hundred, there are still no electrons emitted. This despite the fact that you are adding a great deal more energy with 100 red light lasers than with the single UV laser. Most people expect the electrons to be emitted with more energy as you add lasers, but they are not. The explanation is that the red laser light is made up of individual photons each of which has insufficient energy to cause the electron to be emitted. If the photon doesn't have the minimum energy needed to cause an electron to be emitted then it can't be absorbed. The electrons can't store a fraction of the needed energy and wait for an additional photons to give the complete energy. Either the minimum energy is available or there is no absorption. There is no emission of electrons no matter how many low-energy photons are available. It's not the total energy of the laser but the energy of each photon in the laser that must be sufficient to emit electrons. If the photon is absorbed and has more energy than needed to release the electron from the metal, then the electron leaves with greater velocity, that is greater kinetic energy. This explanation earned Einstein his Nobel Prize in physics. Unusual for a physicist of his time he was able to consider electrons having both wave and particle attributes.
The next paper was on the special theory of relativity. Einstein used Maxwell's equations and the experimental fact that light had a constant speed regardless of the speeds of the source of light and the detector. Taking this fact Lorenz and Fitzgerald came up with a mathematical description called the Lorenz Fitzgerald contraction for length, time, and mass. The measurements of these three change as the relative velocity approaches that of light. When a conductor moves through a magnetic field electric current is produced irregardless of which you move, the magnet or the electrical conductor. Only the relative motion matters. You don’t need to measure motion absolutely so you don't need the ether, the strange medium that supported light propagation. This was good since none of the experiments could measure the ether.
Einstein had two postulates:
the principle of relativity -there is no absolute frame of reference, systems are measured relative to each other.
Light always propagates at the definite velocity, c, independent of the motion of the source.
One outcome is that any measurement will be seen differently by observers at different locations since it takes light a bit of extra time to travel an extra distance. The math needed to translate one set of measurements to those in another frame of reference turn out to be the Lorenz Fitzgerald contraction. Both Lorenz and Planck developed their equations to agree with experimental data, while Einstein derived his theory from the above postulates and an understanding of symmetry. This allowed him to make predictions that were later verified. It also allowed him to predict the equivalency of matter and energy, his famous equation that energy equals mass times the velocity of light squared.
His next step was to work on the general theory of relativity. He was helped quite a bit by his former mathematics professor Herman Minkowski who reformulated the special theory into a more elegant geometrical package. Time was redefined as a fourth dimension. He called this four dimensional entity space-time. This implies there are some properties which always stay the same in space-time even when they look different to different inertial observers in only three dimensions. For an object traveling near speed of light, time stretches out, i.e. it slows down, while space dimensions shrink. The two effects kind of balance each other. After mathematicians modified his theory Einstein half jokingly said that he no longer understood his own theory. This geometrical approach is a key step in his formulation of the general theory of relativity. It seems to include less of his famous physical intuition.
Another key step occurred at work when he thought if a person falls freely in space they will not feel their own weight. Also if a person feels acceleration out in space it is identical to the force of gravity. The general theory of relativity is a theory of gravity not motion. This reminds me of Newton thinking about a falling apple and generating his theory of gravitation. Simple thoughts sometimes make deep impressions.
Einstein started to get offers from universities to give talks, to present courses, and for full time positions. Worsening conditions in Germany, especially for Jews, caused Einstein to travel more and take temporary positions at world renowned universities such as Cal Tech, Oxford and Princeton. He finally accepted a permanent position at the Princeton Advanced Studies Center. This was good for the Center since it had just opened and wanted to attract world class researchers. Having Einstein in residence helped to accomplish this. His second wife, a cousin, became ill shortly after moving to Princeton and died. He attracted his divorced step daughter, Margo, to be his housekeeper and and to look after him. Helen Dukais was hired to take care of his office and to guard his privacy.
He was convinced by other scientists to sign the letter to President Franklin Roosevelt warning of the possibility of a German made atomic bomb. He continued to be a pacifist and had nothing to do with the Manhattan Project (which eventually made the first atomic bomb) that he helped to create. He continued his work on a unified field theory hoping that this same geometric approach would be fruitful, and also warned of the dangers of allowing atomic weapons to proliferate.
Taken individually his papers are very good, all being written by one person in less than a year was quite exceptional. Einstein spent a good part of his life at the Princeton Advanced Studies Center where a number of great scientists would visit. An acquaintance of mine played chess with them, and when a number of these great physicists were present together they voted on who had made the most impressive breakthrough in the last century and they all, including Einstein, agreed. Max Planck with his idea of quantized matter and energy was the most impressive. Interestingly Einstein himself was rated fifth or sixth and he agreed.
The second part of the book is writings by Einstein himself explaining his view and methods of doing science. Einstein's own writing is more difficult to follow.
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.