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How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time


Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-05165-X
Publisher: Norton

Theoretical physicist Kaku (Visions, 1997, etc.) looks at the preeminent scientific genius of the 20th century.

The author divides Einstein’s career into three sections. The first spans his childhood and education, concluding with the formulation of Special Relativity in one of five papers the 26-year-old published in his “miracle year,” 1905. (The other four were just as stunning, offering physical proof of the existence of atoms and laying the foundations of quantum theory.) Kaku (Physics/CUNY) briefly addresses such questions as the contributions to these discoveries made by Einstein’s first wife, Mileva, and the fate of their daughter Liserl. The second section covers the period when Einstein worked on the theory of General Relativity. During those years he moved to Germany, expressed pacifist sympathies during WWI, and established himself as the world’s leading man of science. As a consequence of these activities, he also began to attract the attention of anti-Semites who eventually found a powerful voice in Nazism. The third period, beginning in 1925, saw Einstein at work on the never-to-be-completed Unified Field Theory, an attempt to reconcile relativity with the discoveries of quantum theory. Many of his fellow scientists at this point believed he had fallen out of touch with the frontiers of physics, represented by the quantum theory he himself had helped launch. Kaku argues that despite Einstein’s well-known criticisms of quantum theory, his quest was not to refute it but to integrate it into a larger picture that would include relativity. The fact that many current physicists are attempting a similar integration supports Kaku’s contention, backed by substantial evidence, that Einstein’s thought was ahead of his time to the very end of his life.

A good nontechnical introduction to Einstein’s work and a nice addition to Norton's Great Discoveries series.