Einstein by Walter Isaacson – Comprehensive Review

Walter Isaacson’s autobiography of Einstein is both inspiring and insightful. The life of one of the greatest minds in history is compelling and shows a lot about what it means to be a genius. Isaacson style of writing is very informational which is to be expected from an autobiography. I was very impressed with the work put into it, 150 pages of footnotes and sources. All the information attained of Einstein’s life was taken from his letters to and from his friends and family. This I found quite astonishing as no doubt many letters were lost to history that could have contained incredible insight into his life, but alas it was not to be.

One thing I did notice about Isaacson’s writing was that he referenced some classic books, the most notable being The Great Gatsby. He referenced the final line in the book which is probably the most famous line from it; ‘And so he beat on, bourn back, ceaselessly into the past’. I found it a little plagiaristic, I think writers should absolutely take inspiration from others, but this was word-for-word. He did seem, however, very unbiased in his approach to the successes and failures of Einstein and his fellow scientists.

einstein.jpg

Some parts of the book almost seemed more like a physics class than the story of Einstein’s life, but I suppose that is required for the context of what he was working on and what he was trying to achieve. I do have an interest in physics and cosmology, however, so I did quite enjoy the explanations of the problems he was working on.

As for Einstein himself, I was blown away by the sheer intellect he possessed. I had, of course, always know he was a genius but the word ‘genius’ is thrown around a lot lately so it’s difficult to appreciate what it truly means. Einsteins thought experiments showed how in touch he was with the basic fundamentals of nature, that most people overlook. This knowledge led him to conjure up the equations and theories that would change the world forever. It is also worthwhile to note that his theory of relativity was only proven 2 years ago, he was over 100 years ahead of his time.

Another astounding aspect of Einstein was his dreamy nature, one expert from the book dictates this perfectly; ‘At one dinner where Einstein was being honoured, for example, he got so distracted that he pulled out his notepad and began scribbling equations. When he was introduced, the crowd burst into standing ovation, but he was still lost in thought. Dukas caught his attention and told him to get up. He did, but noticing the crowd standing and applauding, he assumed it was for someone else and heartily joined in. Dukas had to come over and inform him that the ovation was for him.’

Einstein was a wanderer and a very private person, although he did enjoy the fame that he received on his trips to America. As a result, he dedicated all of his time to his equations which could possibly be one of the reasons he was so successful, other than the fact that he was a genius, at unlocking the secrets of the cosmos. That being said no one is without fault, and Einstein didn’t have the best relationship with his family. He frequently prioritised his work over his children, but hey, I’m not complaining, this led to major scientific advances that hadn’t been seen since Newton’s time.

I have always found it crazy that during that period of time, so many of the scientific genius’s we rave about today were alive and working together. Einstein, Planck, Maxwell, Schrödinger, Bohr, Curie, Heisenberg. Some of the greatest minds that have ever walked the earth, all alive in the same period of history, below is a photo from the Solvay conference in 1927.

The Solvay Conference, probably the most intelligent picture ever taken, 1927 (1).jpg

Einstein was such a dreamer that he often would forget the keys to his house and his luggage when travelling, and on one occasion where it was reported that he forgot where his house was after coming back from a walk. He also would get so caught up in his work that he would forget to eat lunch.

Another thing that is contrary to popular belief about Einstein, is that he didn’t work directly on the Manhattan project, in fact, most of the project was kept a secret from him. He did, however, get the project rolling as he warned Roosevelt of the possibility of Germany developing a nuclear weapon, and as such, the Americans took immediate action. Einstein only worked on a small problem that they sent him to solve for them, which of course he did, but he was not aware of how it would be implemented in a bomb.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to everyone, even if you have no interest in science. Isaacson does a very in-depth job and I can only imagine how long it must have taken to go through all those letters and interviews.

Cormac

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