Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Einstein

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Einstein

His Life and Universe

by Walter Isaacson

Einstein by Walter Isaacson
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 704 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2008, 704 pages

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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 political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine's fourteenth managing editor in 1996.

He became Chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and in 2003 became president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit organization founded in 1950 dedicated to "fostering enlightened leadership, the appreciation of timeless ideas and values, and open-minded dialogue on contemporary issues."

He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made and author of Einstein. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and daughter.


Also recently published: Jurgen Neffe's Einstein (April 2007), first published in German in 2005 and translated by Shelley Frisch, takes a more thematic, less linear approach to Einstein's life, putting more focus on his youth, and his cultural and scientific afterlife than Isaacson. Whereas Isaacson more fully covers the years Einstein spent in the USA (1932 to his death in 1955), Neffe points out that Einstein would have been effectively incomprehensible to most Americans as his grasp of the English language ran to only a few hundred words!

The Washington Post describes Neffe's biography as "exhilarating" and "a lot more fun" (than Isaacson's work) but The San Francisco Chronicle feels that Isaacson provides a more rounded portrait and that Neffe's is not only badly translated but is also "carping, destructive and generally unpleasant, harping on trivial things like Einstein's lack of personal hygiene". On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times praises the idiomatic translation of Neffe's book and recommends it to those who already know the basic Einstein "story" and want a new way of looking at his life.

This article was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the May 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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