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Einstein: His Life and Universe Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 10, 2007
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As a scientist, Albert Einstein is undoubtedly the most epic among 20th-century thinkers. Albert Einstein as a man, however, has been a much harder portrait to paint, and what we know of him as a husband, father, and friend is fragmentary at best. With Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson (author of the bestselling biographies Benjamin Franklin and Kissinger) brings Einstein's experience of life, love, and intellectual discovery into brilliant focus. The book is the first biography to tackle Einstein's enormous volume of personal correspondence that heretofore had been sealed from the public, and it's hard to imagine another book that could do such a richly textured and complicated life as Einstein's the same thoughtful justice. Isaacson is a master of the form and this latest opus is at once arresting and wonderfully revelatory. --Anne Bartholomew
Read "The Light-Beam Rider," the first chapter of Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe.
Five Questions for Walter Isaacson
Amazon.com: What kind of scientific education did you have to give yourself to be able to understand and explain Einstein's ideas?
Isaacson: I've always loved science, and I had a group of great physicists--such as Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, and Murray Gell-Mann--who tutored me, helped me learn the physics, and checked various versions of my book. I also learned the tensor calculus underlying general relativity, but tried to avoid spending too much time on it in the book. I wanted to capture the imaginative beauty of Einstein's scientific leaps, but I hope folks who want to delve more deeply into the science will read Einstein books by such scientists as Abraham Pais, Jeremy Bernstein, Brian Greene, and others.
Amazon.com: That Einstein was a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office when he revolutionized our understanding of the physical world has often been treated as ironic or even absurd. But you argue that in many ways his time there fostered his discoveries. Could you explain?
Isaacson: I think he was lucky to be at the patent office rather than serving as an acolyte in the academy trying to please senior professors and teach the conventional wisdom. As a patent examiner, he got to visualize the physical realities underlying scientific concepts. He had a boss who told him to question every premise and assumption. And as Peter Galison shows in Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps, many of the patent applications involved synchronizing clocks using signals that traveled at the speed of light. So with his office-mate Michele Besso as a sounding board, he was primed to make the leap to special relativity.
Amazon.com: That time in the patent office makes him sound far more like a practical scientist and tinkerer than the usual image of the wild-haired professor, and more like your previous biographical subject, the multitalented but eminently earthly Benjamin Franklin. Did you see connections between them?
Isaacson: I like writing about creativity, and that's what Franklin and Einstein shared. They also had great curiosity and imagination. But Franklin was a more practical man who was not very theoretical, and Einstein was the opposite in that regard.
Amazon.com: Of the many legends that have accumulated around Einstein, what did you find to be least true? Most true?
Isaacson: The least true legend is that he failed math as a schoolboy. He was actually great in math, because he could visualize equations. He knew they were nature's brushstrokes for painting her wonders. For example, he could look at Maxwell's equations and marvel at what it would be like to ride alongside a light wave, and he could look at Max Planck's equations about radiation and realize that Planck's constant meant that light was a particle as well as a wave. The most true legend is how rebellious and defiant of authority he was. You see it in his politics, his personal life, and his science.
Amazon.com: At Time and CNN and the Aspen Institute, you've worked with many of the leading thinkers and leaders of the day. Now that you've had the chance to get to know Einstein so well, did he remind you of anyone from our day who shares at least some of his remarkable qualities?
Isaacson: There are many creative scientists, most notably Stephen Hawking, who wrote the essay on Einstein as "Person of the Century" when I was editor of Time. In the world of technology, Steve Jobs has the same creative imagination and ability to think differently that distinguished Einstein, and Bill Gates has the same intellectual intensity. I wish I knew politicians who had the creativity and human instincts of Einstein, or for that matter the wise feel for our common values of Benjamin Franklin.
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From Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed biographer Isaacson examines the remarkable life of "science's preeminent poster boy" in this lucid account (after 2003's Benjamin Franklin and 1992's Kissinger). Contrary to popular myth, the German-Jewish schoolboy Albert Einstein not only excelled in math, he mastered calculus before he was 15. Young Albert's dislike for rote learning, however, led him to compare his teachers to "drill sergeants." That antipathy was symptomatic of Einstein's love of individual and intellectual freedom, beliefs the author revisits as he relates his subject's life and work in the context of world and political events that shaped both, from WWI and II and their aftermath through the Cold War. Isaacson presents Einstein's research—his efforts to understand space and time, resulting in four extraordinary papers in 1905 that introduced the world to special relativity, and his later work on unified field theory—without equations and for the general reader. Isaacson focuses more on Einstein the man: charismatic and passionate, often careless about personal affairs; outspoken and unapologetic about his belief that no one should have to give up personal freedoms to support a state. Fifty years after his death, Isaacson reminds us why Einstein (1879–1955) remains one of the most celebrated figures of the 20th century. 500,000 firsr printing, 20-city author tour, first serial to Time; confirmed appearance on Good Morning America. (Apr.)
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Top Customer Reviews
The quality of the writing is excellent. (I also bought Isaacson's 'The Innovators' from Amazon and enjoyed it equally.) The balance he achieves between the very thorough basic text and the supporting notes is admirable. Not only is he covering decades of a life but also the intricacies of the thought processes and output of one of the greatest minds we've known - a wonderful accomplishment. A book I would recommend to anyone with the slightest interest. Maths and formulae are kept to an absolute minimum. It can be enjoyed at a number of levels - a compliment to any author.
"Einstein," is a book by Walter Isaacson who discusses Einstein's life in detail. It is very well written for the lay person and reveals many interesting sides of Einstein's life and works.
As a scientist, Albert Einstein was one of the most epic stars among all 20th-century scientific thinkers. The book brings Einstein's life and times into clear focus, delivering new information never seen by the public. This biography focuses closely on Einstein's personal life and the non-scientific circumstances of his very long and highly productive career.
The book is not a fast read, nor is it simple read, but shows Albert Einstein (1879-1955) to be a master genius. The book is a fascinating and well-written account by Mr. Isaacson, whose style is to write about people who are so stunning that we need to know what makes them that way.
Isaacson's book studies Einstein as a man, with his many imperfections, some bizarre, others just plain incredible. What I especially admired was the angle of description that Isaacson chose for this detailed portrait of Albert Einstein.
I give the book 5 Gold Stars, which was 24 Karat Gold cover-to-cover. A brilliant masterpiece.
Walter Isaacson is known for his well-researched and well-written biographies of great men, and he was aided by the discovery of many of Einstein's previously unknown private letters in 1986. After going through the basics, the author alternates between Einstein's personal life, his scientific work and his political beliefs.
As a physicist, Einstein possessed a brilliant mind. In 1905, he published four new theories that would change science forever. An uninspired student in college, he was unable to get a teaching job upon graduation. Instead, he ended up working for the Swiss Patent Office. This actually proved beneficial as it allowed him extra time to work on his theories. A humble man, Einstein believed that "knowledge is limited" and that curiosity and imagination were responsible for his discoveries. Isaacson tries to explain these in an easy-to-understand manner, but I still found my eyes glazing over in spots. By the end of his career, Einstein was no longer the innovative rebel but instead, the more conservative sage of Princeton.
As for Einstein's personal life, the newly discovered letters allow Isaacson to write in more detail about the famous scientist than any other biographer. This new treasure trove sheds new light on his first marriage to Meliva Maric. Einstein had complicated relationships with both wives and his two sons, and he didn't always treat them admirably. Yet, he was a very social man and had dozens of life-long relationships with other scientists and mathematicians. Einstein was described as "kind, good-natured, gentle and unpretentious." This quiet and unassuming man became our first celebrity scientist and hoards of fans flocked to see him. In these respects, Einstein was much like Ben Franklin--another one of Isaacson's subjects.
Einstein had strong political beliefs. He was both a socialist and a strong pacifist. But Hitler and Nazi anti-Semitism caused him to not only abandon his native Germany but also, to throw his weight behind the war effort. Einstein also decried racism. When Marian Anderson came to Princeton in 1937 to perform, the Nassau Inn refused her a room. Einstein opened his Princeton home to her.
Although Isaacson's biography is exhaustive, he leaves just a few questions unanswered. First, whatever happened to his house in Caputh, Germany after the war? I discovered on the internet that it has a fascinating history that I'm sure Isaacson's readers would enjoy. Also, I wonder how the advent of the computer might have changed Einstein's accomplishments. But these are only small issues in an almost perfect book.
I was never very interested in Albert Einstein, but Isaacson has piqued my interest. He succeeds in bringing to life this "locksmith" who "knows that math is the language nature uses to describe her wonders."