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Einstein in Berlin Hardcover – April 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Levenson covers 18 crucial years, 1914 through 1932, that sealed Albert Einstein's reputation and hurled Berlin, where he then lived, from the kaiser's lap into the Nazis' claws. Levenson, a Peabody- and Emmy-winning filmmaker whose credits include a Nova documentary on Einstein, vividly portrays the scientist at work and provides a lively narrative of the era. Promised the directorship of a new physics institute with few obligations to divert him from research, Einstein returned to his homeland, he himself acknowledged, as a "prize hen" for the Germans hoping to build a cultural capital surpassing London and Paris. While the Great War occupied his fellow Berliners, Einstein largely isolated himself to expand upon special relativity. Levenson points to 1919 as a turning point in the physicist's career: observations of a solar eclipse validated his new theory of general relativity, and he became the most celebrated scientist of the century. In his new public role, Einstein spoke for the Zionist cause, fostered internationalism and promoted peace. That year also marked the beginning of the Weimar Republic, a heady era for the arts and Berlin's night life amid a depression that fueled anti-Semitism. Once eager to declare Einstein the Nobel laureate, German ultranationalists now threatened to pluck the prize hen. Einstein abandoned Berlin in December 1932, just weeks before Hitler became chancellor. One flaw in this otherwise excellent book requires mention. Levenson does not entirely succeed in unifying biography and history; thus he leaves readers to guess what significance Einstein's presence in Berlin had for his science, his personal life and the city.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Einstein as witness to history, from his 1914 arrival in Berlin to his flight from the Nazis in 1932. Levenson crafted Nova's two-hour Einstein biography.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; First Edition edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055310344X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553103441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,076,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By charles falk VINE VOICE on June 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I'm glad I read Thomas Levenson's EINSTEIN IN BERLIN in spite of its atrocious publisher's blurb: "In a book that is both biography and the most exciting form of history, here are eighteen years in the life of a man, Albert Einstein, and a city, Berlin, that were in many way the defining years of the twentieth century." What "the most exiting form of history" may be is never explained. Fortunately, the book is better written than its jacket. Levenson, a documentary filmmaker who produced a two-hour biography of Einstein for Nova, can paint memorable pictures with words too. In general, he does better by Einstein than he does by Berlin.
Levenson strikes a good balance between the details of Einstein's private life, his scientific work, and his political activities. The book's greatest strength is its rendering of Einstein's contributions to theoretical physics into a form digestible even by a scientific illiterate. Levenson shows the process as well as the final result; the failures as well as the triumphs. He explains the ongoing debate between Einstein and Niels Bohr over arcane aspects of quantum mechanics. I was intrigued by the "mind experiments" Einstein used to test his theories and those of other phyicists. The chapters summarizing Einstein's life before and after Berlin give the reader sufficient context for understanding his "defining" years. Some aspects of his personal life get short shrift: his activity as an amateur musician, for example. We learn that his friendship with Queen Elizabeth of Belgium began when they played chamber music together, but we never are given a glimpse of him playing, nor any sense of the time he devoted to this pastime.
Levenson is more impressionistic in his portrayal of Berlin.
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Format: Paperback
Albert Einstein. Adolf Hitler. Germany. The two iconic figures of the 20th century, shaped and nurtured, alternately embraced and rejected by the one nation. Posthumous competitors for the honor of TIME's "person of the century", Levenson's book details the progress and transformation of both men and their nation through the critical period from 1914 to 1932, while Einstein lived in Berlin.

The portrayal of Einstein here is of a great but flawed man, not quite the usual hagiography, despite the imagery reminiscent of the Christmas story at the start. Why did Einstein come to Berlin, the heart of Prussia, after renouncing Germany for Switzerland as a teenager? Why did Germany's extreme climate of militarism not repel him, at this time immediately before the great war? Levenson details the scientific inducements: German physics at the time was unparalleled, and Einstein in Berlin could enjoy the company of the established Max Planck and younger colleagues like Max Born and Lise Meitner, later Heisenberg and many others. But the offer of money and prestige was perhaps as important - Einstein would direct his own "Kaiser Wilhelm" institute of physics. Official Germany wanted to claim Einstein as its own, and Einstein, with just a touch of patriotism, accepted.

Levenson portrays those war years, and the Weimar Republic that followed, with great poignancy. The German people were itching to prove their greatness. Planck and other scientists declared their strong support for the war, and even Einstein tried to help with research on aircraft and more significantly on the gyrocompass. Einstein's close friend Fritz Haber was the Edward Teller of chemical weaponry, developing lethal gases in the same building where Einstein worked out general relativity.
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Format: Hardcover
Einstein in Berlin covers 16 years in the great scientist's life, from 1914 when he accepted the post as a professor in Berlin to 1932 when he was forced to leave Germany forever to escape anti-semitism. Einstein did some of his most important work in Berlin, including the general theory of relativity, and the science of relativity is explained in depth by Levenson. The novel also chronicles Einstein's personal life, and the politics of Germany (and the entire world) during these 16 years. In short, Levenson brings together science and history to give the reader an understanding of the man behind one of the greatest minds of all time: Albert Einstein.

Levenson probably was compelled to write this story out of a desire to show the world the true Albert Einstein. He is glorified in the public mind, and though he was indeed an dedicated, eccentric scientist with wild hair, that was not the whole Einstein. He was a poor student, and nearly did not graduate from college because of his contempt for the schooling system. During his marriages, Einstein always had mistresses, and treated his wives and children with reserve. He was a zionist, a Jew, and a pacifist. To understand the man, the reader must first understand the cirsumstances in which he lived.

For anyone interested in science, this is a must-read. Levenson goes into great detail explaining Einstein's theories, making them somewhat easy to understand. He explains all the preparations and experimenting that went into the development of the theories, and writes about Einstein's blunders as well as his successes. He reveals the man behind the science, and makes him seem more human; some readers would be suprised and encouraged to know that the great Einstein was horrible at math. He, too, had faults, and Levenson exposes all of them, whithout detracting from Einstein's glory.
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