A comprehensive and marvelously readable life of the eminent scientist—and more, the eminent counter-culturalist, rebel, humanist and philanderer.
“A century after his great triumphs, we are still living in Einstein’s universe,” writes Aspen Institute president and former CNN head Isaacson (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, 2003, etc.), “one defined on the macro scale by his theory of relativity and on the micro by a quantum mechanics that has proven durable even as it remains disconcerting to some.” Brave enough to tread on such highly specialized ground, and working with newly available archival materials, Isaacson lucidly explains the finer points of Einstein’s theories. One, the general theory of relativity, had its birth, Isaacson writes, while Einstein was struggling to write an article on his special theory of relativity; sitting in his office in Bern, where he worked as a patent-examiner, he had the thought, “If a person falls freely, he will not feel his own weight”—“the happiest thought in my life,” Einstein recalled—but underlying it is some formidable work in physics and mathematics that took Einstein many subsequent years to express, and Isaacson acquits himself very well in taking readers along some strenuous paths of reasoning. Along with the science, Isaacson gives us an Einstein with whom it might have been fun to enjoy a stein of beer—unless you were married to him, a different story altogether, for by Isaacson’s account, Einstein was sufficiently sure of his own genius and the needs it entailed that he refused to be tied down by the ordinary rules applied to husbands and fathers. One daughter he even abandoned without a look back, but this was typical of his nonconformity, which, Isaacson writes, was characteristic of Einstein until the very end of his life.
An exemplary biography, at once sympathetic and unsparing. Readers will admire Einstein’s greatness as a thinker, but they will now know that he, like all other idols, had feet of clay. See Jürgen Neffe's Einstein (2007) for more on the subject.