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Einstein: His Life and Universe Paperback – May 13, 2008
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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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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Top Customer Reviews
We learn that as a child Einstein suffered from what could be echolalia (which is where you mutter a phrase to yourself multiple times before saying it to others). Issacson notes both Einstein's debt to Hume, Planck and philosphers such as Kant in helping develop both his world view and his breakthroughs in science. To his credit Isaacson also points out that the man that came to embody the modern view of physics and became a hero who had feet of clay; Einstein gave up his daughter for adoption without ever seeing her and spent much of his time away from Mileva (who would eventually become his first wife) while she was pregnant for a variety of reasons some understandable some not. The young Einstein was brash,egotistic and obnoxious (or you could call him overly confident) often pointing out flaws in papers by the very professors he was seeking jobs from. He also charts Einstein's difficult path to his professorship including his stint working in the Swiss patent office.
Isaacson does cover Einstein's support for the development of the atomic bomb (although this is a relatively small section of the biography) and mentions that Einstein later regreted his support and the bombing that occurred in Japan during World War II. When Einstein came up with his famous equation, he never imagined it would help pave the way for for mass destruction.Read more ›
As Isaacson says, Einstein wondered early on what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. This kind of thinking outside the box led to a lifetime of successes and a few failures, as well. The good and the bad are covered here. What is so striking about this book is that the reader seems to grow with the subject. One cheers Einstein on in his youth as he throws convention out the window, bucks hierarchy and generally goes his own way. Later in life, as Einstein becomes more reasoned (but nonetheless no less radical) we understand the transformation. This is the key to the enjoyment of reading "Einstein"...the humanness of his person shines.
There are a couple of chapters which took me by surprise and are terrific additions to the book. One is titled "Einstein's God", a look at how science and religion may or may not be reconciled in Einstein's eyes, and a chapter on the "Red Scare". That Einstein should have lived through the McCarthy era and had the wits to comment on it is fortuitous, indeed.
"Einstein" may just be the best read of the year. Isaacson's narrative style flows and while there are a lot of technical points about physics necessary to the the story, it never for a minute lets down. I highly recommend "Einstein" and give tribute to Walter Isaacson, whose research and strength as an author gives us such a compelling look at Albert Einstein.
Isaacson's book provides the salient details of Einstein's life, and does a fair if unspectacular job of bringing the gist of Einstein's theories into focus for the layman. Biographies of scientists, artists and philosophers can sometimes be frustrating reads when the life narrative isn't as interesting as the subject's body of work. This places a burden on the biographer to convey the aesthetic flavor and force of the subject's work (or, in other words, "what all the fuss was about.") Isaacson does a fair job of this. It's virtually impossible to fully do it with Einstein while omitting nearly all the math, but at least Isaacson manages to get it done without losing the essence of what made Einstein's work fascinating.
The larger problem with the book is the author's reduction of Einstein's personality to a few summary points, repeating those over and over, even to the point of jamming virtually every life event into tight pigeonholes. Specifically:
-- Einstein, we are told, was repulsed by conformity.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I've read several works on Einstein's life and I have to say that this was the most comprehensible and enjoyable to read. Read morePublished 17 days ago by Kindle Customer
It is a wonderful story and I have read Mr. Isaacson's biograhpy on the Great One twice. My wife, Janie and I throughly enjoyed Herrmann's reading and the theater it brought to... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Peyton E. Phillips
Thoroughly enjoyed this author and his subject once again. I've read several books by author and am engrossed by his writing each time. Thanks for such storytellers in the world.Published 1 month ago by J. Deacon