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.