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Einstein's Jury: The Race to Test Relativity [Hardcover]

Jeffrey Crelinsten

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Book Description

19 Jun 2006

Einstein's Jury is the dramatic story of how astronomers in Germany, England, and America competed to test Einstein's developing theory of relativity. Weaving a rich narrative based on extensive archival research, Jeffrey Crelinsten shows how these early scientific debates shaped cultural attitudes we hold today.

The book examines Einstein's theory of general relativity through the eyes of astronomers, many of whom were not convinced of the legitimacy of Einstein's startling breakthrough. These were individuals with international reputations to uphold and benefactors and shareholders to please, yet few of them understood the new theory coming from the pen of Germany's up-and-coming theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein. Some tried to test his theory early in its development but got no results. Others--through toil and hardship, great expense, and perseverance--concluded that it was wrong.

A tale of international competition and intrigue, Einstein's Jury brims with detail gleaned from Crelinsten's far-reaching inquiry into the history and development of relativity. Crelinsten concludes that the well-known British eclipse expedition of 1919 that made Einstein famous had less to do with the scientific acceptance of his theory than with his burgeoning public fame. It was not until the 1920s, when the center of gravity of astronomy and physics shifted from Europe to America, that the work of prestigious American observatories legitimized Einstein's work. As Crelinsten so expertly shows, the glow that now surrounds the famous scientist had its beginnings in these early debates among professional scientists working in the glare of the public spotlight.

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"In this impressively detailed yet readable scholarly work, Jeffrey Crelinsten examines the history of early attempts by astronomers to put Einstein's theory to the test. . . . As well as casting new light on a neglected aspect of relativity studies, Einstein's Jury provides a fascinating analysis of science in action: the scrupulous weighing of evidence to assay--as far as is humanly possible--the truth of the matter."--Peter D. Smith, Times Literary Supplement

"By focusing on astronomers rather than the theoretical physicists more often associated with Einstein, Jeffrey Crelinsten offers new insights. . . . He uses the introduction of the theory of relativity to present a case study of how innovative scientific ideas enter both the scientific community and the consciousness of the general public."--
Publishers Weekly

"Jeffrey Crelinsten's fascinating Einstein's Jury: The Race to Test Relativity tracks the ways in which one particular community, astronomers, handled Einstein's relativity theories, roughly between 1910 and 1925. . . . Crelinsten has done a great service and deserves our thanks for tracking so beautifully the American astronomical response to relativity between the wars."--Peter Galison, Science

"Crisply written and impressively researched. . . . [T]wo elements make Einstein's Jury stand out: First, it looks at astronomers, rather than physicists or mathematicians, providing a focus that comparatively offer a genuinely novel perspective on the question of relativity's reception. . . . It belongs to that rare breed of works that will be of genuine interest and enjoyment to the casual reader while at the same time being required reading for the specialist."--Suman Seth, American Scientist

"Einstein's Jury tells a fascinating and largely unknown story of how Einstein's revolutionary ideas on the nature of space and time were received, understood, misunderstood, tested and finally confirmed by astronomers of the day, giving birth to relativistic cosmology."--Alan S.McRae, Mathematical Reviews

"Einstein's Jury is a story of true scientific effort and petty human weaknesses and eventualities. It is hard to put down this tale of how American astronomers, equipped with the best instruments in the world, struggled for or against the observational evidence for three experimental consequences of Einstein's theory of general relativity."--Jzsef Illy, Isis

"Einstein's Jury is an extremely well researched and readable account of how Einstein's innovative theories were received in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book follows the birth of modern astrophysics from the first trickles off Einstein's pen in 1905 to the emergence of relativistic cosmology in the mid-1930s. . . . Crelinsten's account of Relativity's twenty-year struggle for acceptance by the scientific community is told with all the tension of a well-paced thriller. I have no doubt that professional historians and popular science readers alike will thoroughly enjoy Einstein's Jury."--Gerard McMahon, Astronomy and Space

"Crelinsten charts an important but understudied episode in the history of modern physics: the empirical tests of general relativity. . . . Crelinsten is a believer in details. He diligently documents exchanges of ideas, conducts of experiments, and steps of arguments. He utilizes two kinds of sources. Regarding Einstein and other European physicists, Crelinsten relies on published documents and the secondary literatures. To delineate American astronomers' activities, he uses a lot of unpublished archival substances."--Chen-Pang Yeang, University of Toronto Quarterly

"Crelinsten is to be congratulated on having made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the reception of general relativity by American astronomers, and the central role they played in placing the theory's astronomical predictions beyond doubt."--Andrew Warwick, British Journal for the History of Science

"Crelinsten . . . is a good writer, who, without repeating himself, periodically sums up his discussion and sets things up for the next section so that we always know what to look forward to and are reminded of what we have just learned. . . . I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in how revolutionary scientific ideas find acceptance within the scientific community."--Naomi Pasachoff, Metascience

From the Inside Flap

"There is no shortage of literature on Einstein and relativity, yet Crelinsten succeeds in providing a novel and fruitful perspective on how Einstein's theory of general relativity was received in its early years. By focusing on the astronomers rather than the physicists, and America rather than Europe, he adds a valuable chapter to the history of modern science in which scientific and social aspects are treated equally and in the same compelling detail."--Helge Kragh, University of Aarhus, Denmark

"Jeffrey Crelinsten has written a wonderful book that fills an important gap in our knowledge of the reception and acceptance of general relativity in the scientific community: he focuses on the crucial role played by astronomers, particularly in the United States. In a fascinating account he describes how general relativity was tested and confirmed and how the new field of relativistic cosmology emerged out of this work. I wish this book had appeared earlier!"--A. J. Kox, University of Amsterdam

"An excellent book, with wonderful gems that arise out of the author's mastery of the literature. It will be enormously useful to Einstein scholars as well as to those interested in the history of astronomy."--Daniel Kennefick, University of Arkansas

"A fascinating and detailed story of the emergence of modern cosmology that reaches back to the debates over the validity of Einstein's theory of general relativity during the early decades of the twentieth century. This is an American tale of pragmatism and empiricism, of eclipse expeditions and of the intrepid spirit of those who built the world's largest astronomical observatories and discovered an expanding universe."--Diana Kormos Buchwald, Einstein Papers Project, Caltech

"An overwhelming accomplishment that surely will have a lasting impact on the history of the subject. So much is laid to rest about the dominance of the 'Eddington' 1919 eclipse result and its resulting PR as to be an eye-opener to many (to most) would-be-historians. [Crelinsten's] research into original sources is powerful and makes the case!"-- Allan R. Sandage, Staff Astronomer Emeritus, The Observatories (Pasadena, CA) Carnegie Institution of Washington

"Since the 1960s, scientists have shown with exquisite precision that Einstein was right about relativity. But for relativity's first two decades (1910-1930), the case for Einstein was hardly a slam dunk. Jeffrey Crelinsten tells the exciting roller-coaster story of the early experimental tests of special and general relativity, from light deflection measurements to ether-drift tests. Believers debated skeptics, but in the end, the jury was swayed by the data. Crelinsten's tale reads like a scientific courtroom thriller."--Clifford Will, Washington University in St. Louis, author of Was Einstein Right?

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Einstein introduced his theory of relativity into a world that was changing dramatically. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising history even for an old hand 18 Jan 2007
By Sandra M. Faber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a staff member at the UCO/Lick Observatory, one of the major venues where the action takes place in this book. Astronomers at Lick were one of two major groups who actually verified beyond scientific doubt the validity of Einstein's general theory of relativity, according to this absorbing tale told with verve by Crelinsten. You would think that the facts related here would be well known to me and my colleagues, but such is not the case. Most of us had been educated to believe that the decisive test of GR was the light-bending measurement by Eddington at the 1919 eclipse. That test was very important but, according to Crelinsten, did not conclusively prove the theory to the satisfaction of the scientific community. It was later work, mostly at Lick and at Mt. Wilson, that did this. I was delighted to learn that my predecessors at Lick were so important in the development of modern cosmology and even more please to read the story so delightfully told by Crelinsten.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly Work of the Highest Order 6 Feb 2007
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Most people believe, as I did, that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity was vindicated by Sir Arthur Eddington's confirmation that the path of distant starlight bends as it goes though the Sun's gravitational field - this being observed during the eclipse of 1919. Well, as this excellent tome most clearly describes, nothing could be further from the truth. It took closer to two decades for Einstein's theory to be finally accepted worldwide. The author goes through detail after painstaking detail in describing the efforts by astronomers, mainly in the USA, to confirm (or refute) Eddington's results, as well as other predictions of the theory, and thus support (or demolish) Einstein's theory. The text is very clear and the prose very engaging. Despite its strong scientific content, this book does read like a thriller. It must be admitted, however, that the author pulls no punches regarding the nature of the scientific problems being investigated, the problems encountered, the scientific debates, etc. Consequently, I would expect that readers who would likely enjoy this book the most would be those with a background in physical science as well as the most serious science and astronomy buffs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book for Anyone Interested in Einstein and Science 17 July 2006
By Roger I. Bobley - Published on Amazon.com
I'm astounded by the research conducted by Jeffrey Crelinsten in order to write this book. It's absolutely amazing that such information about Einstein had existed but either had never been made public before, or had not been organized, analyzed and coherently told as a fascinating, historically accurate story. Ironically, the author's ability to find facts and relate them to one another proves him to be a master of relativity, himself! The book is more than interesting: it is important.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Einstein's Jury: the jury was out for 25 years! 6 July 2006
By Robert Fripp - Published on Amazon.com
Given the number of books about Albert Einstein, it's amazing this story has not been told--until now. "Einstein's Jury" documents the physicist's twenty-five year struggle to win acceptance for relativity, a theory that most established scientists considered bizarre, metaphysical and incomprehensible. "Einstein's Jury" is a cliff-hanger, with author Jeffrey Crelinsten calling the play by play as we follow Einstein toehold by toehold, struggling to climb the vertical wall leading to scientific acceptance. Crelinsten holds us in suspense. The scientific debate was nasty, even before the First World War split the jury further by pouring national prejudices on the flames. Acceptance was not a foregone conclusion: Einstein's jury debated for decades. To borrow a phrase from Wellington after the battle of Waterloo, the verdict was "a damned close-run thing." Crelinsten marshals his pro- and anti-Einstein forces well, using previously unpublished papers and letters to cover the knock-downs, slight advances, insults, reverses and ultimate success."

Robert Fripp, author of
Let There Be Life: A Scientific and Poetic Retelling of the Genesis Creation Story (Essays about our cosmic and organic origins)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars US interest in Einstein's Theory of Relativity 1910-1930 10 Feb 2008
By Richard S. Ellis - Published on Amazon.com
This is a fascinating review of various observational attempts to validate Einstein's theory of relativity. It complements earlier detailed accounts by emphasizing the important and decisive role contributed by US astronomers, both in measuring the deflection of starlight at the time of an eclipse (a difficult observation) and the so-called gravitational redshift which can be detected in the solar spectrum and also that of compact white dwarfs. Most earlier texts have focused on the pioneering efforts of Sir Arthur Eddington who promoted the importance of Einstein's theory and secured a convincing measure of the deflection of starlight at the 1919 eclipse. (Although some have subsequently questioned the validity of Eddington's results, recent scholarly articles support the original claim.) This book includes Eddington's story but adds much more by discussing, in detail, the remarkable persistence of US observers at the Lick and Mt Wilson observatories, as well as the unfortunate mishaps of the German astronomer, Finlay-Freundlich. Crelinsten writes well and gives us a gripping tale of the trials and tribulations of the various observers. For the first time (for me at least) he documents the remarkable reluctance in some quarters within the US scientific community to accept Einstein's theory at all! This is a marvelous story and you won't need to understand the technical details of relativity to follow the excitement as it unfolds during the First World War and afterwards.

Richard Ellis, Professor of Astronomy, Caltech
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