How science, religion and politics shaped Einstein’s life and work.
As part of the Jewish Lives Series, Gimbel (Philosophy/Gettysburg Coll.; Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion, 2012, etc.) gives special emphasis to Einstein’s connections to Judaism. Born to secular Jews in Germany in 1879, Einstein attended a Catholic school, where he was bullied for being “the Jewish kid.” His response was rebellion: At the age of 8, he became “a deeply committed practicing Jew,” observing dietary and religious laws. That early conversion, however, was short-lived. By high school, he became skeptical of mysticism, preferring to believe in “a wholly material universe guided by rational principles discoverable through scientific investigation.” Continuing his education in Switzerland, his defiance against authorities of all kinds led to his renouncing his German nationality and eventually—in order to find a permanent job—taking on Swiss citizenship. Einstein’s work in a patent office is well-known; Gimbel thinks the work was “enjoyable and challenging,” since it involved investigating the technical originality of patent applications. Being a civil servant gave Einstein time to work on his own ideas, which culminated in publications that revolutionized thinking about matter, light, and Newtonian concepts of space, time, motion and mass. After being rejected for a Nobel Prize in physics for several years, Einstein finally earned one in 1921. Gimbel examines the role of anti-Semitism in Einstein’s difficulty in securing teaching appointments, as well as the scientist’s support of Zionism, which he hoped would help to create “a proud, self-possessed Jewish population who contributed to the betterment of all….Jews would be seen and, more important, see themselves, as valuable.” The FBI considered his pacifism a sign of subversion and created a file on him. During the war, he was horrified by the potential of an atomic bomb, declaring after Hiroshima, “the war is won, but the peace is not.”
A fine, informative life of the renowned scientist.