EINSTEIN IN BERLIN by Thomas Levenson


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From television producer and science writer Levenson (Measure for Measure, 1994, etc.), a lively chronicle of the physicist’s crucial 18 years in the German capital.

In 1913, fellow scientists Max Planck and Walther Nernst invited Einstein to join the faculty of the University of Berlin and to accept election to the elite Prussian Academy of Science. At 34, he had already changed the face of physics with his theory of special relativity. Plank and Nernst offered him an opportunity to work in the company of his scientific peers, with “no teaching obligations whatsoever [and] the right to lecture as he pleased,” in a city that over the next two decades would see many startling events. The author takes Einstein's stay in Berlin as the point of departure for a wide-ranging examination of a crucial historical crossroads. Within a year of the physicist’s arrival, WWI had broken out, to a chorus of approval from his new colleagues; Einstein was among the few to protest the wild enthusiasm with which the youth of Europe marched off to slaughter in the trenches. At the same time, he was working on General Relativity, the theory that would make him the most celebrated scientist of his time—perhaps, Levenson argues, of all time. The author conveys in largely nontechnical language the essentials of Einstein's scientific achievements and of the quantum theory that he helped launch but never could bring himself to accept. Levenson also gives a frighteningly vivid picture of the political and cultural upheavals that shook Germany and the world in the years following WWI. Einstein's Jewish background, along with his pacifist and internationalist ideals, made him an inviting target to right-wingers eager for scapegoats in the wake of Germany's defeat. His departure for America on the eve of Hitler's ascension to power brings the story to a close.

One of history's most absorbing periods, refracted in the career of a key figure.

Pub Date: April 8th, 2003
ISBN: 0-553-10344-X
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003


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