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Einstein    by Walter Isaacson order for
by Walter Isaacson
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, takes biography writing to a whole new level with Einstein: His Life and Universe. This isn't just the story of Albert Einstein from birth until death; Isaacson escorts the reader on a unique journey through Einstein's mind, as well as looking at him through the eyes of his friends and family. Along the way the reader becomes so close to the great man of the twentieth century that it feels like he were still alive and conversing with you. This book shows the man behind the physics and astronomy genius, the renowned creator of the theory of relativity. Do not be fooled by the sheer girth of this 700-page book. Isaacson has a writing style that immediately makes the reader feel at home, sitting in a comfortable chair. Coupled with this is the knowledge since the book is so large that you will experience every important moment in Einstein's life and will be able to put to rest the urban legends that have developed over the decades. And no, Einstein did not flunk math.

Isaacson has done an incredible job in researching the math and physics so that the theories and ideas are presented in their entirety and laid out plainly so that readers who wish to truly understand Einstein's ideas behind relativity, magnetic fields, quantum mechanics, and his never ending search for the unified field theory, can do so. But unlike most Einstein biographies, this is only part of the book; another part examines the human being responsible for the incredible achievements. While being a very kind man throughout his life, Einstein also had a thing for the ladies, divorcing Maric, his first wife of many years due to his infidelity with his cousin Elsa (his second wife whom he would outlive). Nevertheless, Einstein always loved and cared for his children, even his first daughter with Maric who was given up for adoption. We learn that there was a time when he held little respect for his son Hans Albert, who pursued a career in engineering; Einstein loved the world of theory and contemplation and despised the more practical sciences. Later in life, Hans and Albert became close once again and his son was by his side when Einstein died.

The book can be divided into two parts, two worlds essentially. The first covers his growing up in Germany and then moving to Switzerland, Prague and Berlin. He mastered calculus at the age of fifteen, and began his work on relativity while working at a patent office. It took some years before Einstein was granted a professorship in Berlin. It was during this time when Einstein achieved a celebrity status that was uncommon for a scientist, that Hitler began his steady rise to power. While Einstein adamantly declared himself without religion, he never considered himself an atheist but a scientist. However he always considered himself a member of the Jewish culture and with the changes taking place in Germany, became a prominent spokesmen for the Zionist movement. Sadly it came to the point where it simply wasn't safe for Einstein to remain in Germany, and he immigrated to the United States. He had visited the country a number of times and was a big supporter of its inherent rights and freedoms.

This is where the second part of the book begins, addressing Einstein's life in the United States. An adamant pacifist throughout his life, as the horrific events taking place in Germany began to surface, Einstein became more outspoken about the country of his birth. And it was at this time that he and a peer discussed the theory of the chain reaction and the concept for the atomic bomb was developed. While it has been thought by many that Einstein was linked with the atom bomb from its conception to its detonation, he was only involved at the theoretical stage, kept out of further proceedings due to his Jewish and German history. Once the full potential of the bomb was realized, Einstein went out of his way to voice his opinions on the effects of the bomb to the President, Defense Secretary, and anyone else who would listen.

After the end of the war and devastation caused by the bombs, Einstein became introverted, focusing more on his theoretical work and pulling away from the limelight. For the rest of his life, and up to his last days, he calculated, contemplated, and searched for the linking solution between relativity and quantum mechanics: the unified field theory that would explain the universe once and for all. Einstein: His Life and Universe does not simply tell his life story and incredible achievements, but instills a fascination and excitement over science in the reader. It brings back potent ideas of the age of discovery, as well as laying a foundation in science for future insights when, perhaps, the unified field theory may be fully realized.

The reader for the audiobook version is Edward Hermann who starred in The Aviator, received an Emmy Award for his work on The Practice and appeared regularly on Gilmore Girls. Hermann's voice is like that of a congenial professor at a lecture, or a grandfather telling an old story: soft and calming, but also clear and understandable.

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