Reviews

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Looking for a good end-of-summer read? Cast your eye over the voluminous catalog of the Library of Congress, which lists 380 books, plays, and other items with the name Einstein in the title, and a further 170 with Einstein as author. These include biographies and studies of relativity, of course. They also encompass his youth, his love life, his long-lost daughter, his brain, and his blunders. They examine his views on war and peace, on religion, on Zionism, and on humanism, and they link him to such figures as Newton, Galileo, Picasso, Buddha, Jesus, Freud, and Frankenstein. How to make sense of this cornucopia? Josie Glausiusz selects the best of the books, exhibits, movies, music, and other Einstein ephemera.

Biographies

One of the best, Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time, by Michio Kaku (Atlas Books, 2004), weaves together a seamless synthesis of Einstein’s life and science, showing how his theories gave birth to the great movements of modern physics, including string theory and the search for the origins of the universe. Einstein’s physicist friend Abraham Pais wrote two authoritative biographies: ‘Subtle is the Lord . . . ’: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein (Oxford University Press, 1982) and Einstein Lived Here (Oxford University Press, 1994). In Einstein in Berlin (Bantam, 2003), Thomas Levenson documents Einstein’s years at the University of Berlin and his exile from Germany in 1932. Einstein in America: The Scientist’s Conscience in the Age of Hitler and Hiroshima, by Jamie Sayen (Crown, 1985), describes Einstein’s sojourn at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and, in particular, his many battles for social justice.

See also: Einstein: A Life, by Denis Brian (John Wiley, 1996).

Einstein: The Life and Times, by Ronald W. Clark (Avon Books, 1972).

Albert Einstein: A Biography, by Albrecht Fölsing, translated by Ewald Osers (Penguin Books, 1997).

Relativity

At one end of the spectrum, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Einstein, by Gary F. Moring (Alpha Books, second edition, 2004), traces the theory of relativity all the way back to the Greeks and up to unified field theory, with plentiful diagrams, cartoons, and easy explanations to smooth the way.   At the other end is the master himself. In Relativity: The Special and General Theory, by Albert Einstein, translated by Robert W. Lawson (Dover Publications, 2001), and The Principle of Relativity: A Collection of Original Papers on the Special and General Theory of Relativity, by  A. Einstein, H. A. Lorentz, H. Minkowski, and H. Weyl (Dover Publications, 1924), Einstein explains his theories to the layperson, with Principle providing translations of his most important papers.   In between is E = mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation, by David Bodanis (Walker & Company, 2000), an intelligent and engaging look at the theory’s ancestors, its interpreters, and its modern-day applications. 

See also: Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics, edited by John Stachel (Princeton University Press, 1998).

Einstein’s 1912 Manuscript on the Special Theory of Relativity (George Braziller, 1996). A facsimile edition, complete with scribbles and crossings-out.

Personal Papers, Photographs, and Essays

From the Einstein Archives in Jerusalem comes Albert Through the Looking Glass: The Personal Papers of Albert Einstein, by Ze’ev Rosenkranz (The Jewish National and University Library, 1998), a marvelous book of artifacts that includes the 1952 invitation offering Einstein the presidency of Israel and his reply, regretfully declining.  Essential Einstein, compiled and edited by Allen Boyce Eddington (Pomegranate Artbooks, 1995), is a coffee-table collage of quotations and photographs, among them an image of a smiling Einstein in a headdress alongside a group of Hopi Indians at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Some of Einstein’s most influential writings appear in three collections: The World as I See It (The Wisdom Library, 1949); Out of My Later Years (Philosophical Library, 1950); and Ideas and Opinions (Bonanza Books, 1954). Gems found in them include his essays “Why Socialism?” (1949) and “The War Is Won But the Peace Is Not” (1945), an homage to Mahatma Gandhi (1939), and a 1931 letter to Sigmund Freud (“[Y]ou, least of all men, are the dupe of your desires.”).  Einstein on Peace, edited by Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden (Schocken Books, 1968), assembles Einstein’s outpourings on pacifism, from his first political act—a bold signing of a manifesto calling for European unity at the outset of World War I—to his last (a petition opposing the nuclear arms race, a week before his death in 1955).  Such views evidently invited the scrutiny of the FBI, which amassed an enormous file on a man some considered an “alien Red.” Read an analysis in The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist, by Fred Jerome (St. Martin’s Press, 2002), or download the 1,427-page file at foia.fbi.gov/ einstein.htm.

See also: Albert Einstein: The Human Side—New Glimpses From His Archives, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (Princeton University Press, 1979).

The Expanded Quotable Einstein, collected and edited by Alice Calaprice (Princeton University Press, 2000).

In Love and at Home

In the midst of marital dissolution and a messy love life, science lifted Einstein “from the vale of tears” to the “clarity of physical law . . . and mathematical beauty” argues Dennis Overbye in Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance (Penguin Putnam, 2000).  Speaking of love, should Einstein’s Serbian-born wife Mileva Maric have shared the credit for his early work? The answer may lie in the following: In Albert’s Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Maric, Einstein’s First Wife, edited by Milan Popovic (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), and Albert Einstein, Mileva Maric: The Love Letters, edited by Jürgen Renn and Robert Schulmann (Princeton University Press, 1992).  Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, by Michele Zackheim (Riverhead Books, 1999) ponders the mysterious fate of their daughter, born out of wedlock in 1902.

See also: The Private Albert Einstein, by Peter A.Bucky and Allen G. Weakland (Andrews and McMeel, 1992).

The Private Lives of Albert Einstein, by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter (St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

Religion

True religiosity, wrote Einstein, constitutes in part “a knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate.” In Einstein and Religion (Princeton University Press, 1999), Max Jammer considers how religion affected Einstein’s work and, conversely, how his theory of relativity had an impact on theological thought.   Discover senior editor Corey S. Powell strikes a similar chord in God in the Equation: How Einstein Transformed Religion (The Free Press, 2002), in which he argues that Einstein, by establishing the first all-encompassing mathematical model of the universe, tapped into science’s  spiritual side and reinterpreted the meaning of “God.”

Quantum Theory, Time Travel, and Space-Time Ripples

In Einstein Defiant: Genius Versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution (Joseph Henry Press, 2004), Edmund Blair Bolles retells the dramatic debates between Einstein and Niels Bohr, defender of the uncertainty principle in quantum theory.  For a decades- long exchange on the same topic, see also The Born-Einstein Letters: Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born From 1916 to 1955 (Macmillan, 1971).  J. Richard Gott explains how to slide through a wormhole to a distant point in the universe and return before leaving in Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe: The Physical Possibilities of Travel Through Time (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), while Marcia Bartusiak, in Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time (Joseph Henry Press, 2000), documents the dogged hunt for gravitational waves, the subtle but pervasive ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein and the Brain

A journalist, a pathologist, and the brain of a genius in a Tupperware bowl take a road trip in the surreal memoir Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America With Einstein’s Brain, by Michael Paterniti (The Dial Press, 2000).   On a more metaphysical note, Richard Panek argues in The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes (Viking, 2004) that Einstein and Freud, though they met only once, shared a common goal: the exploration of an unknown realm using evidence that could not be seen.

Einstein for Kids

An invitation to join a school’s science club, advice on getting a haircut, and many, many queries on Einstein’s theories from children worldwide (with carefully crafted responses from the scientist himself) appear in Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and From Children, edited by Alice Calaprice with a foreword by Evelyn Einstein (Prometheus Books, 2002).

Fiction

In Einstein’s Dreams, a novel by Alan Lightman (Pantheon, 1993), a young Einstein imagines life if the effects of his theory of relativity were to be easily detected by humans: Some characters repeat their lives over and over while others experience almost nothing at all because time passes so slowly that it seems to be frozen.

Exhibits

Einstein, the most comprehensive exhibition ever mounted on Einstein’s life and theories, opens at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on September 14, 2004; see www.skirball.org.   Or celebrate the centenary next summer of Einstein’s miraculous year, 1905, at Einstein ’05, a festival in Bern, Switzerland: www.einstein05.ch/en/fra1_en.html. While in Bern, visit the apartment that Albert Einstein rented on the second floor of 49 Kramgasse from 1903 to 1905. Now open to the public, it has been restored in the style of that period. See

www.einsteinbern.ch/index.php?lang=en&show=start.  For more information on international events and conferences lauding Einstein in 2005, see www.einsteinwebsite.de/events-e.htm.

Online

The Einstein Archives online (www.alberteinstein.info), organized in part by the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem, is a database of approximately 43,000 Einstein artifacts.  The Nobel Prize Website, www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1921/einstein-docu.htm, features Einstein’s biography and Nobel lecture.  For all things Einstein, all the time, see westegg.com/einstein.

Documentaries . . .

NOVA: Einstein Revealed (1996; www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/einstein) is a penetrating PBS profile enlivened by dramatizations based on Einstein’s writings and friends’ recollections.   A. Einstein: How I See the World (PBS, 1991) chronicles how Einstein became the world’s most eloquent advocate for peace.   Einstein’s Wife: The Life of Mileva Maric Einstein (PBS, 2003) explores the historical facts of Mileva Maric’s life and examines her dual roles as Albert Einstein’s domestic and scientific partner. See pbs.org/opb/einsteinswife.

. . . and film

Marilyn Monroe, Senator Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio, and Albert Einstein cross paths during a hot and steamy night in a New York hotel room in the movie Insignificance (1985).   The pseudonymous Yahoo Serious, director of Young Einstein (1989), reinvents the youthful scientist as the son of Tasmanian apple farmers, who develops the theory of relativity in order to put bubbles into beer.   In I.Q. (1994), Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) uses his mathematical genius to engineer a romance between his niece (Meg Ryan) and a hapless car mechanic (Tim Robbins).

Music

Einstein on the Beach: An Opera in Four Acts, by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson (CBS Records, 1979), is a minimalist meditation upon Einstein and nuclear apocalypse.  A similar theme in a slightly different genre is sounded in Einstein A-Go-Go (RCA Re-cords, 1981), an antinuclear weapons song by the British band Landscape that pays homage to Einstein’s campaign for disarmament.

And finally . . . Seat yourself in the lap of Einstein (OK, a four-ton statue by Robert Berks) in Potomac Park at Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street in Washington, D.C., just outside the National Academy of Sciences.

With contributions by Chris Jozefowicz, Ken Kostel, and Maia Weinstock.

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