This scholarly discussion of two of the most preeminent Jewish physicists of the 20th century is more a collection of six essays than a cohesive book. The first chapter discusses Einstein’s views on nuclear weapons. The second brings to light Einstein’s role in the founding of Brandeis University. The third chapter gives a brief biography of Oppenheimer and the fourth focuses on philosophies he developed later in life. The last two chapters discuss both Einstein and Oppenheimer. One is devoted to the two men’s views of the future of physics and the other discusses how community influenced their lives.
Unfortunately, the topic of Einstein and Oppenheimer is terribly difficult to tackle, as the two men’s scientific lives only briefly overlapped. Oppenheimer was born the year before Einstein’s miraculous year of discovery in 1905. The men only met a few times and their meetings were not particularly noteworthy. Einstein was no less than an icon of his time; Oppenheimer was much less. Schweber best discusses the two men in their differences, although the lives and impact of the two men were so different that the reader is hard pressed to actually feel that they are worthy of the contrast.
The book is soberly well-written and carefully annotated and referenced. While there are significant details of interest, overall the book is more appropriate to a scholar of scientific history than a casual reader. Bibliography, index, notes.
Juli Berwald Ph.D. is a science writer living in Austin, Texas and the author of Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone. Her book on the future of coral will be published in 2021.