Ein­stein: His Life and Universe

Wal­ter Isaacson

  • Review
By – November 16, 2011

Through­out this most-encom­pass­ing biog­ra­phy of Albert Ein­stein, Wal­ter Isaac­son con­tin­u­al­ly returns to a theme that per­vad­ed Einstein’s life: that of uni­fi­ca­tion. Ein­stein was com­pelled to explore ways to bring togeth­er dis­parate parts of sci­ence. His the­o­ry of gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty con­nect­ed the dis­sim­i­lar ideas of grav­i­ty and elec­tro­mag­net­ism. His the­o­ry of the pho­to­volta­ic effect, for which he won the Nobel Prize, brought togeth­er ideas of quan­ta and the nature of light. Sim­i­lar­ly, Einstein’s pol­i­tics were based on the idea of cre­at­ing and empow­er­ing a one-world government.

Fol­low­ing this over­ar­ch­ing theme of Einstein’s life, Isaacson’s book is a uni­fy­ing force in our under­stand­ing of Ein­stein. Rely­ing scrupu­lous­ly on pri­ma­ry sources, Isaac­son details the ideas, pres­sures, rela­tion­ships, and polit­i­cal con­text that sur­round­ed Ein­stein. An astound­ing num­ber of para­graphs in the text con­tain first-per­son quotes or ref­er­ences to per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence. Includ­ed in the reams of doc­u­men­ta­tion for this book are per­son­al papers that have only recent­ly been released and which inform Einstein’s ear­ly years.

Even for its com­plete­ness, the biog­ra­phy is not heavy-hand­ed. Isaacson’s depic­tion of Einstein’s devel­op­ment of the gen­er­al the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty in 1915 almost reads like a thriller. His com­mand of both the sci­ence and the his­tor­i­cal con­text are bril­liant. This is a mag­nif­i­cent work: a trib­ute to Einstein’s life and his uni­verse. 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.

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