Wednesday, January 23, 2008

[Biography] Einstein: The Life and Times

Adolf Hitler, the ultimate dictator, Mahatma Gandhi, the ultimate pacifist and Albert Einstein, the ultimate scientist…three people in world history, who, in spite of a huge number of books having been written about them, still continue to have an aura of mystery about them.
There could be some doubt whether Hitler was as evil incarnate as he is picturised to be ( yeah, there are people who nearly worship him), there could be a some doubt as to whether Gandhi’s principles are still applicable in these times, but there could be no doubt that Einstein’s genius has changed our perceptions of time and space for ever.

In fact, TIME magazine declared him the Person of Century in 2000. He ranks up there with Newton & Galileo. (Some people add Stephen Hawking to this elite club, but am not sure if that is a unanimous sentiment across the scientific community.)

Einstein: The Life and Times by Ronald W Clark fulfilled my long standing desire to read a well-researched biography of one of the greatest geniuses ever. It consists of almost 900 pages of small print and over two dozen photographs.

The biography begins with details about Einstein’s birth place, Ulm, and his grand-parents. Then it sketches the lives of his parents, before delving into young Albert’s childhood. He was in Berlin throughout the First World War, and witnessed the rise of Nazism. Hitler’s hatred of Jews forced him to relocate to America, where he worked at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies throughout the later part of his life.

Author has drawn his material mainly from Einstein’s correspondence, which was quite extensive. Einstein regularly wrote long letters to his fellow physicists across Europe, in which he not only discussed problems in theoretical physics but also those that plagued the world of his times. Throughout the book, Einstein comes across as a person of the world, one who had the vision to foresee the nuclear race. His thoughts on various aspects of life such as politics, religion, and society have been extensively analysed.

Of course, to most of us, Einstein would remain the absent-minded scientist ( which he indeed was, when it came to remembering ‘trifles’ like his own telephone number or house address), one who often helped kids with their homework ( he once wrote to a young girl, “do not worry about your math problems; mine are much bigger”) and had a fine sense of humour ( he once autographed his portrait sketch as “ This well-sated pig you see, professor Einstein purports to be”). All these qualities only enhanced the aura around him, which remains intact till this day.

Indeed, today the word “Einstein” has almost become a synonym for “genius”.

Reading this biography not only helped me understand this man better, but also to appreciate his work and his views even more.

I came across this book in personal library of RVP; and the fact that I wouldn’t budge without taking it, made her donate it to me. Thank you!

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;-) said...
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