THE MAN WHO STALKED EINSTEIN by Bruce J. Hillman

THE MAN WHO STALKED EINSTEIN

How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

History of the clash between “German” and “Jewish” physics in the early decades of the last century.

That clash explains why Albert Einstein ended up at Princeton and why his self-appointed nemesis, Philipp Lenard, ended his years stripped of academic rank but worshipping Adolf Hitler to the end. In what former University of Virginia School of Medicine chief of radiology Hillman (co-author: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice—How Medical Imaging is Changing Health Care, 2010) calls “a memorable, character-driven story,” Lenard emerges as a kind of furious, single-minded Javert whose particular branch of experimental physics relied on studies of more or less observable phenomena, much removed from the theoretical physics in which Einstein traded. That divide, Hillman writes, had its origin in World War I and the virtual blockade of German scientists, cut off from the international community and defiantly nationalistic as a result. Einstein’s refusal to play along and his more independent path of inquiry earned him widespread antipathy. That, coupled with Lenard’s growing anti-Semitism and general ire over Einstein’s popularity, set a pattern of persecution that would last for as long as Einstein worked within the sphere of German influence—and Lenard bore more than his share of the burden of making Einstein’s life miserable. The writing is mostly serviceable, if sometimes infelicitous, but the storytelling is too often clunky and digressive. Einstein is given the sobriquet “the relativity Jew,” and Max Planck spends "an uncomfortable minute" with Hitler, while Lenard imagines him wondering, “how had he become so old?” and straining “against the constricting dark tie and starch-stiff collar that bit into his thin, old man’s skin.” Well, that’s what he gets for tangling with the quantum, one might think, but his larger punishment lies in being mostly forgotten today.

A footnote to modern theoretical physics and the history of science. Readers may prefer the bigger picture provided by John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists (2003) and the better-written works on Einstein by Walter Isaacson and Alan Lightman, among others.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4930-1001-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Lyons Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015




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