August 21, 2018

Review: Einstein for the 21st Century.

No 20th century icon is as instantly recognizable as Albert Einstein. Folks who know nothing of General, let alone Special Relativity can identify his lovable mad scientist visage, and his famous equation E=MC^2 adorns everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers. Einstein even beat out such notables as Gandhi (whom he admired) for Time magazine’s Man of the Century. Einstein for the 21st century: His legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture, by Peter Galison, Gerald Holton, and Silvan S. Schweber and out from Princeton Press explores the far reaching effects the man has had on modern culture and science.

Essays by different authors cover a diverse spectrum, from the religious outlook of Albert Einstein, to his subjective influence on music and art, to an in-depth divining of the Lorentz equation. But don’t expect a light read; this literary tome is far from the typical Internet collection of “Einstein-isms” and quote-able quotes! The feel is more that of a scholarly PhD dissertation; in fact, this book would be a definite resource and reference for any paper on Einstein and his far reaching influence. His annus mirabilis, or “miracle year” of 1905 is now over a century old, but almost single-handedly, Einstein vaulted us as a civilization over 50 years into the future. Even today, the legacy of Einstein remains, as does Einsteins’ final dream of a Grand Unification Theory (GUT) to adequately explain gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. The chase continues in particle accelerators around the world. Its sobering to think that Einstein’s passion to understand light and gravity led him to work the problem right up to his death in 1955.Which prompts the often asked question; could a simple patent clerk have such an influence on physics today, or is the community a closed system? Not that it stops folks from trying…. perhaps Einstein will always be the patron saint of the lone innovator…

The elements that formed his particular brand of genius, from his early childhood to his doctoral years and eventual celerity, are also examined in great detail. It remarkable to realize that in 1905, Einstein released no less than six papers in the span of nine months, a breakneck pace by any standard! One little paper, On the Theory of Brownian Motion, proposed the now famous mass-energy equivalence, E=MC^2, almost as a foot note. This opened up the realm of fusion and fission, as well as eventual quantum theory, and the 20th century onward was never the same. A simple listing of his legacy of  contributions and impacts to science is truly amazing! Granted, the portions of the book dealing with Einstein and his influence on modern art are perhaps a stretch for the scientifically minded, but Einstein for the 21th Century is an indispensable addition to any collection on one of the true scientific greats, and an excellent semi-autobiographical and historical reference. The book is as deep and complex as the man himself, and the human culture he continues to influence over a century later.

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