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Book review: 'Einstein,' the man, dissected

Published: Sunday, Aug. 6 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

"MY EINSTEIN: ESSAYS BY TWENTY-FOUR OF THE WORLD'S LEADING THINKERS ON THE MAN, HIS WORK, AND HIS LEGACY," edited by John Brockman, Pantheon, 261 pages, $25

Few scientists have affected the world's knowledge in the expansive and continuing way that Albert Einstein did.

Born in 1879 in Ulm, Wurttemberg, Germany, Einstein died in 1955 in Princeton, N.J., and during his life he made discoveries that changed the way we view the world.

"My Einstein" is a gem of a book that celebrates not only Einstein the scientist but also Einstein the man, even though it is a collection of essays written by scientific figures. Each views Einstein as both a great scientist and as an unusual person who had an important impact on their lives.

In 2005, the world celebrated the major accomplishments of the scientist in the form of several seminal papers, the first on light and photoelectric effect (for which Einstein received a Nobel Prize), the second concerned small particles as connected to the molecular-kinetic theory of heat, and two papers dealt with special relativity, from which his famed theory of relativity emanates.

Einstein spent his middle years in a quest for a unified-field theory, a set of equations that would join the laws of gravity and electromagnetism. He thought they were the two fundamental forces in nature, and such a theory would therefore solve all of nature's puzzles. But that question was not to be satisfied, and today scientists believe the forces of nature are not so easily contained.

For many years, there have been a number of stories told about Einstein's personal life, the kind of things that are bound to happen to an icon. Unfortunately, most of them appear to be mythical. The contributors to this book deal both with the scientific genius of Einstein and his personal life as they knew it. The result is a remarkably well-rounded figure . . . whether or not all of it is true.

The British scientist Roger Highfield looks at all the most commonly believed Einstein traits and deals with them in terms of fact. Allegedly, Einstein began life as a dyslexic and a dullard in school. Not true. But he did grow up into a disheveled genius who hated socks. He had white and wild hair and a lined and a wise face.

But what we don't know usually is that, as a young man, Einstein was powerfully built with brown eyes and a mass of curly black hair and a "raffish moustache." He enjoyed the company of women and they enjoyed his company.


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com

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