Friday, June 13, 2008

Einstein, by Walter Isaacson

I've read several different accounts of Albert Einstein's life, but none is more comprehensive and understandable than the current one by Walter Isaacson. Superbly written and inclusive of recently discovered correspondence from Europe, Einstein recounts the many facets of the life of the redoubtable scientist, profound thinker, passionate activist and singular personality.

Many of the anecdotes about Einstein's alleged learning disabilities are addressed as well as the itinerant status of stateless vagabond that he assumed in his early adult life. The most enjoyable surprise, however, is Isaacson's ability to explain theoretical physics which is accessible to the non-scientist.

Isaacson spends whole chapters discussing the photoelectric effect, bending light rays, gravitation and molecular physics which allows one to come away with a solid understanding of the language and concepts of some of the greatest thinking of humankind.

In addition to the heralded scientific discoveries, the biography takes us through the cultural and social events of the twentieth century, the ravages of Nazism, the breathtaking consequences of the atomic age and the political upheaval of the cold war. Unlike other celebrities of the age, Professor Einstein was not afraid to express his opinions on such incandescent topics as human rights, nationalism and religious faith, and to use his celebrity to promote beneficence when possible.

The paradoxes and twists of fate in Einstein's life add layers to the interest generated by this most interesting individual. While abandoning his own sons, he became the loving and devoted father to his two step-daughters. After a lifetime espousing pacifism, he became one of the creators of the most destructive weapons known to man. After decrying nationalism as the "measles of mankind", he later became an outspoken proponent of the creation of the nation of Israel.

To understand the life and times of Albert Einstein is no less than than to understand the history of the twentieth century .

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