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Einstein: His Life and Universe Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 10, 2007
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How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how the imagination that distinguished his science sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story, a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects the triumphs and tumults of the modern era.
Based on the newly-released papers and personal letters, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk - a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn't get a teaching job or a doctorate - became the mindreader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.
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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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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (April 10, 2007)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 675 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743264738
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743264730
- Item Weight : 2.44 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.6 x 2 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #42,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on May 18, 2008
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Mr. Isaacson's Einstein biography addresses such things as the myth he was poor at math, who were the people who helped him on the road to his scientific discoveries, his two marriages and relationship with his sons and two step-daughters, Einstein's good fortune to be working at the Swiss Patent Office when he developed his theories, his slow ascension into eventually being accepted into academia, his revulsion of German nationalism during the first and second World Wars, his involvement in the development of the atom bomb, his belief in "God," the politics behind him eventually being awarded a Nobel Prize in physics, and Einstein's push back during the United States' Red Scare witch hunt. The biography jumps back-and-forth between personal episodes and his scientific breakthroughs. Thankfully, Mr. Isaacson gives a clear general overview of Einstein's mass-energy equivalency, the photoelectric effect, as well as his Special and General Theory of Relativity. Despite the author doing a good job of not wading into the deep end of the physics pool by not including mathematical equations, this numbskull reader still needed assistance of YouTube videos to better grasp Einstein's theories. It also explains why quantum mechanics unsettled him throughout his life. The author also highlights how serendipity occurred numerous times during Einstein's younger years which helped him to focus on his major breakthroughs. The book also includes 16 pages of black-and-white photos.
This is the second biography I have read by Mr. Isaacson. Both the Steven Jobs and Albert Einstein books overlooked that they were clearly on the high-functioning autism spectrum (also known as Asperger's). Because of my family's dynamics, there were oodles of red flags that appeared to me whenever the author discussed Einstein's and Job's eccentricities. I suggest the reader keep it in mind when reading either of Mr. Isaacson's excellent books.
Isaacson has won my vote: he's one of the best biographers of our time. Book after book, he captures the essence of these figures with respect and critical review. Einstein is a fascinating, flawed, and brilliant man. Isaacson adeptly weaves stories of scientific discovery with the trials and tribulations of marriages run amok. Einstein's temperament was extreme: kindness juxtaposed with coldness. Isaacson compares the two and leaves his focus on display for the reader.
I was exceptionally impressed by Einstein's political leanings and powerful statements. Here are a few that captured my attention:
"Blind respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."
'A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. But intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience."
"People who live in a society, enjoy looking into each other's eyes, who share their troubles, who focus their efforts on what is important to them and find this joyful -- these people lead a full life."
"Use for yourself little, but give to others much."
Top reviews from other countries
However this does give one a good idea how winning a Nobel prize can typically happen much later after the fact and how a noble prize winner can be immediately projected into fame at that time, especially in this case by the American population. We see this still today where an Nobel winner, an expert in a relatively small field, is asked to pronounce on so many world issues and to patronize so many causes. We still see this today.
Let me add I bought a used, hardcover edition from Betterworldbooks via Amazon. It did arrived later than expected, in excellent condition. As I had already been refunded, they magnanimously agreed to make me a present of it! So I am more than happy to recommend them.
I would love to have met him! I am neither mathematical or scientific but somehow it makes sense now.