EINSTEIN, HISTORY, AND OTHER PASSIONS by Gerald Holton

EINSTEIN, HISTORY, AND OTHER PASSIONS

The Rebellion Against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 This latest in a recent spate of books about society's rejection of the authority of science tries to put the rise of the new Luddites into the larger context of the history of ideas. In common with many distinguished older scientists, Holton (Physics and History of Science/Harvard) is disquieted by the turn away from science. However, he takes a larger view than most of his colleagues, seeing it not just as a loss of government funding and academic prestige, but as a wider cultural reevaluation of the rightful place of science in our culture. A century ago the Columbian Exposition celebrated the promise of electricity; today, the Smithsonian presents an exhibit concentrating on such ``failures of science'' as Three Mile Island. The historical reasons for this rejection of science include the increasingly esoteric ideas with which science works (quantum theory, genetic engineering, hyperspace), as well as an element of Romantic ideology that rejects rationality and objectivity in favor of broader spiritual values. Thus we have the perception of the scientist as cold and anti-humanistic--a stereotype Holton goes to some lengths to counter in his examination of the way in which great scientists, particularly Einstein, have been guided by passion and intuition in creating mental images of the world they study. The second half of the book focuses on Einstein's life and characteristic ways of thinking, drawing on Holton's own experience as one of the editors of the physicist's collected papers. Of particular interest is his evaluation, and refutation, of the contention that Einstein's first wife, Mileva, was an unacknowledged collaborator in his creation of relativity theory. Holton's arguments presuppose some understanding of Einstein's work, which may limit their impact on those who disparage science. Much food for thought, and few easy answers--but Holton effectively outlines the terms of a debate that will determine much of our short-range future. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-201-40716-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996