An expertly crafted account of the life, loves, and science of Einstein during the first two decades of the 20th century.
Much, of course, has been written on Einstein—at least two books on his brain alone. But by focusing on a relatively brief period, and with access to newly available papers and letters, Overbye (Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, not reviewed) is able to cut through the haze of myth that has inevitably enveloped Einstein, showing him to be a genius, yes, but neither a saint nor devil (though perhaps a bit of both). The author traces Einstein’s life from his early years as an odd, rebellious student to his rise as an international star of the scientific world. Central to the story are Einstein’s relations with his first wife, Mileva Maric. Older than Einstein, and a gifted scientist in her own right, Maric was his soul mate and inspiration, who nurtured him at the ultimate expense of her own career. As his own star rose, however, Einstein tired of her and divorced her, callously leaving Maric to live within a miasma of depression and obscurity. Overbye lovingly evokes the charms of bohemian life in the prewar German-speaking world that Einstein and Maric shared in their early years. He also skillfully dissects this remarkable period in German science, especially physics, when new ideas seemed daily to challenge age-old assumptions: the personalities of this world and Einstein’s relation to them as colleague and competitor are finely etched. Finally, the author painstakingly pieces together the thought processes that went into Einstein’s discoveries—discoveries that changed forever our understanding of the universe—explaining them accessibly without oversimplification.
An ambitious project that works: Overbye has created an accurate, detailed, and fascinating portrait of Einstein as a flawed, complex young man. (Author tour)