Dave: Today we’re talking about the book, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”, by Walter Isaacson. First of all, one of the reasons this particular biography of Albert Einstein stood out to me was because of the author. I read Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin and was impressed with his writing style and treatment of history. But the other main reason I wanted to read this book was because of Einstein himself, and the fact that he’s such an intriguing person out of history. I didn’t know much about him, other than a few trivia items such as his crazy wardrobe, his academic problems when he was younger, and those goofy pictures of him you see at the mall with the wild hair.
Nate: Yeah, he’s someone I think a lot of people don’t know really well, other than the fact that he was a genius, and that he came up with the theory of relativity, although most people probably couldn’t tell you what that entails exactly. I know I wouldn’t have been able to speak about it too intelligently before I read the book.
Dave: To me, the thing that really stuck out about Einstein after reading this book was his power of imagination, and his ability to think about things, many times mundane things, several times, and in different ways. The power of his imagination, and therefore his creativity were just amazing. These days it seems as though imagination and creativity aren’t valued as much in school because they aren’t seen as practical, which I think is too bad. Einstein felt that imagination was superior to knowledge, and that the freedom to think was very important.
Nate: Absolutely. His ability to imagine was incredible. It was unbelievable to me that early in his career he rarely used equations or mathematics to create his ideas, most notably his theory of relativity. He simply used his imagination and was able to think about information in different ways. In fact, Isaacson says in the book that there were several other scientists who had figured out much of the science behind the theory of relativity before Einstein presented his theory. Unfortunately, those men didn’t have the ability to see what that information could mean. To me, that was the true genius of Einstein.
Dave: And he also didn’t feel the need to use mathematical equations to prove any of his theories early in his career. He simply put forth his theory of relativity as fact, and said that someone else could go prove it mathematically or by observation. He knew it was right, so I don’t think he was too concerned. Many times his theories were actually proven to be correct years or decades after he presented them.
Nate: The anti-establishment attitude he displayed early in his career was certainly different from where he ended up later in his career, however. He ended up being a doubter of quantum physics and someone who held onto old school thinking when the rest of the scientific community was moving forward.
Dave: It is ironic that the man who turned the world of physics upside down early in his life, then spent much of the rest of it trying to preserve some of the old ways of thinking. It was also interesting to see how the treatment of the Jewish community in Europe, and specifically Germany, by Hitler eventually led to many of the most accomplished scientific minds in the world leaving Germany and eventually helping the Allies develop the atomic bomb before the Germans were able to.
Nate: Exactly. Hitler’s own policies greatly contributed to many of the best German scientific thinkers leaving his country. That’s pretty ironic also.
Dave: I must say I was quite surprised to find out that he was very much a ladies’ man.
Nate: He was a ladies’ man well into his later years, throughout both of his marriages and beyond. I agree. I wasn’t expecting that. He was also such a celebrity all around the world. Everywhere he went; people clamored to see him and wanted to ask him dozens of questions about everything from science to politics to the mundane.
Dave: And he soaked it up. He tried to act as though he didn’t like all of the attention, but he really did.
Nate: And he was absolutely revered throughout much of the scientific community as well, even though he didn’t create much of scientific importance during the last several decades of his life. His earlier achievements were enough to give him an aura that future scientists and thinkers would continue to respect throughout the final years of his life.
Dave: Overall, I think Isaacson does an excellent job of showing who Einstein really was, while demonstrating to readers how his mind worked.
Nate: I agree. He lays out Einstein’s theories in ways the average person can comprehend while also making him seem like a normal human being. Despite his genius, he had plenty of flaws and inconsistencies that make him an interesting character to study.