A very sobering and demystifying look at Einstein's contributions to the development of the Special and the General Theories of Relativity, his work on Cosmology (and his greatest mistake in positing the Cosmic constant), his unsuccessful quest for a "Final Theory of Everything," as well as his thoughts on politics, philosophy, history and religion. The substance of this collection of Einstein's papers we have seen before but not the lore and the deep understanding of Einstein the man and his technique as scientist, as it is so artfully annotated and portrayed by the holder of the Lucasian Chair of mathematics at Cambridge University, the renown Stephen Hawkings.
What Hawkings give us that is new here is a clearer understanding of where Einstein's true genius lay: It was it seems in understanding the full import and the subtleties of the theories that went on before him, both experimentally and mathematically, and then accepting and utilizing them all to the max; without, hesitation, doubt or reservations. With the single exception of the Quantum theory where he uttered the now famous sentence that "God Does not Play Dice with the universe," Einstein was confident in his approach even when he was not confident in his ability to carry his projects through to their conclusions. In short, Einstein believed deeply in the proven (and only in the proven) science of his day. For instance, he never believed in the "luminiferous ether," nor was he deterred by the profound implications of the constancy of light: that the rest of the universe of science would have to be rearranged to accommodate this new profound fundamental and underlying truth.
It is not just coincidental that both versions of relativity leaned heavily on the monumental work of James Clerk Maxwell's description of electromagnetic forces, or on Hendrick A. Lorentz mathematical transformations, and later on the new four-dimensional geometry of Hermann Minkowski as well as that of Bernard Riemann, but also, on the results of the Michelson-Morley experiments, proving once and for all the non-existence of the imagined ether. It seems that it was a signature characteristic of Einstein that he had the vision and the foresight to know that important discoveries were whirling about him. More than most of his contemporaries, he seemed to have had a "second sense" to know that he was in the midst, and was a key part of, a new scientific revolution. And thus, much to his credit (and much underplayed), Einstein did not care about "scientific orthodoxy," nor about the fact that the mathematical tools and talents that he came endowed with were often insufficient for the tasks he was undertaking. He simply, forged stubbornly ahead anyway, seeking help from mathematicians and fellow scientists more talented than he.
However the thing that really sets his genius a part from that of other scientists of his era was the fact that he could recognize a "foundation truth," and did not waver or allow scientific orthodoxy to cause him to alter his views. He was as tenacious as a foxhound onto the scent of a fox in pursuing the logical consequences of fundamental truths. That is what won him the Nobel Prize, for his work on the "Black Body" experiment and on Brownian Motion, rather than for the Relativity theories that he is most famously known for.
This is an engaging book. The more I see of Hawking's mathematical explanations the more comfortable I become with them. The book is supremely accessible for anyone who has mastered elementary calculus. Four stars