Summary and book reviews of Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Einstein

His Life and Universe

By Walter Isaacson

Einstein
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2007,
    704 pages.
    Paperback: May 2008,
    704 pages.

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Book Summary

How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, 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 mind reader 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.

CHAPTER ONE
THE LIGHT-BEAM RIDER

"I promise you four papers," the young patent examiner wrote his friend. The letter would turn out to bear some of the most significant tidings in the history of science, but its momentous nature was masked by an impish tone that was typical of its author. He had, after all, just addressed his friend as "you frozen whale" and apologized for writing a letter that was "inconsequential babble." Only when he got around to describing the papers, which he had produced during his spare time, did he give some indication that he sensed their significance.

"The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light and is very revolutionary," he explained. Yes, it was indeed revolutionary. It argued that light could be regarded not just as a wave but also as a stream of tiny particles called quanta. The implications that would eventually arise from this theory -- a cosmos without strict causality or certainty -- would spook him for the rest of his ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Isaacson's impressively readable biography of Einstein, the first to be published in English since all Einstein's papers have been available, lays some long held myths to rest ... Einstein comes across as fully man, not myth, replete with complexities and contradictions. A man to be admired as a scientist but not necessarily as a human being.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times - George Johnson

Occasioned by the release of more Einstein papers, his book re-creates events with a richness not possible before. Isaacson, who cut his teeth as a political correspondent for Time magazine, does a fine job of explaining some difficult science.

The Boston Globe - Amir D. Aczel

Overall, this is an excellent book and has much to recommend it. Isaacson's biography is well researched and contains a surprising amount of new information about its enigmatic subject .... [his] writing style is engaging and lively, although at times the subject matter slows him down somewhat ... There are a few other flaws in the book. One is Isaacson's pursuit of an unconfirmed rumor about Einstein's love life .... Possibly, this problem and others arise from Isaacson's use of some secondary sources of dubious quality among a large totality of references, most of which are helpful and dependable. But the flaws in this biography are minor, and the book emerges as a major and authoritative work on one of the most interesting figures in the history of science.

The Washington Post - Michael Dirda

[A] painstaking and reliable biography. You won't go wrong in reading and learning from it.

Popmatters - Kathleen Krog

Like its subject, Walter Isaacson’s ambitious biography of Albert Einstein radiates intelligence, wit and eloquence. You won’t need to recall high school physics and geometry to grasp Einstein’s soaring concepts, which changed the study of the science and provided the seedling for the atom bomb.

Publishers Weekley

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.

Library Journal - Jack W. Weigel

This work, the first full biography of Einstein since all his papers have been made available, is well written and sensibly balanced in its treatment of the famed theoretical physicist, his family, and his friends. Certainly one of the best and most complete Einstein biographies thus far.

Kirkus Reviews

An exemplary biography, at once sympathetic and unsparing. Readers will admire Einstein's greatness as a thinker, but they will now know that he, like all other idols, had feet of clay.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. In his penetrating and magnificently nuanced biography of Albert Einstein, Isaacson elucidates Einstein's nonconformist and philosophical temperament and the particular nature of his genius within a richly textured social context, and he precisely explains Einstein's "astonishing, mysterious, and counterintuitive" scientific achievements and their epic consequences.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Mr. Isaacson has great fun with the reportorial frenzy that surrounded each new pearl of Einsteinian wisdom … an illuminating delight.

Reader Reviews
Fred Landis

Science and nationalism
The realities of war,nationality,and religion are almost ignored in previous biographies of Einstein.This is the first to make clear that if Neils Bohr had not been Danish he would not have had access to research from both the British and German ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Walter Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952 in New Orleans, Louisiana. After graduating from New Orleans's Isidore Newman School he spent a brief time at Deep Springs College before attending Harvard, graduating with a BA in history and literature. From there he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, gaining an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

He began his journalism career at The Sunday Times (UK) and then at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He joined TIME Magazine in 1978 and served as a ...

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