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on 4 January 2011
If you want to learn about Einstein's science and aren't afraid to get technical, then "Subtle Is the Lord" by Abraham Pais is far superior. That being said, I really enjoyed Isaacson's contribution, because it does an unpalleled job of putting you in the role of spectator of Einstein's personal life, not just his scientific career. From reading this book I became so familiar with Einstein's singular personality that by the end I almost felt as if I had lost a good friend.

This was a thrilling read, and is a superb database of Einstein quotations, but I'm rating it four stars instead of five as punishment for Isaacson's obnoxious habit of assuming that he knows better about physics than the 20th century's greatest physicist. This becomes most annoying when Isaacson turns to the subject of quantum mechanics. He simply does not do justice to the sheer depth and complexity of Einstein's views on quantum mechanics. Many physicists studying foundational problems in quantum mechanics believe that Einstein was almost the only voice of reason amid the confused and confusing babble of Copenhagen obscurantism. (See John Bell and Peter Holland if you want examples of such physicists.) Isaacson writes off the old Einstein as basically stubborn and reactionary. This could hardly be further from the truth given the exotic ideas that Einstein routinely played with in seeking his unified field theory. (For instance, he tried to account for wave-particle duality in terms of point-like solutions of field equations. This isn't evidence of a man eternally wed to naively outdated conceptions of physics.)

As a supposed example of Einstein's reactionary philosophy of physics, Isaacson cites Einstein's belief that physics ought to be simple. Einstein has been proved wrong, says Isaacson, by the large taxonomy of particles, many of which were discovered after Einstein's death. Actually, it's Isaacson who is mistaken, because simplicity of principles is one of the central attractions of quantum field theory, the subject which underlies the Standard Model. The messy jungle of seemingly arbitrary particles is only a superficial, incidental manifestation of the deeper amd much simpler truth.
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on 30 May 2017
Delivered on time and good product. Thanks
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 May 2008
Having just finished the recent biographies of Stanley and the young Stalin, this one had a lot to live up to, and whilst not containing the elements of derring do that those two books had, this is nonetheless a fascinating and enthralling story. Many new facts have recently emerged about Einstein's life and Mr Isaacson has woven them into a story that is easy to get through and grips throughout, which will hopefully encourage those who may not be so keen on science books to give this a chance. It is fair to say that Einstein was a "bit of s lad" at times, and belies his "mad scientist" image - he really should have got a hairdresser to sort his mane out!

I heard the author speaking on NPR radio and was keen to emphasise that this is a personal story more than a scientific tome, and indeed the science contained herein is excellently described without overwhelming the little grey cells. The book also serves as a history of the scientific politics both pre, during and post world war two which is an added bonus to be honest.

If you are at all interested in famous lives, science and or history then this book should appeal to you.
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on 11 October 2008
Walter Isaacson has created a unique and wholely respectful insight into the life of one of the great scientific figures of the 20th century.

As with any biography that is true to the subject and not retrospectively judgemental, Mr. Isaacson paints a very human picture of a man held in awe by most and misunderstood by many.

This is a first rate book. I've taken one star off, as the scientific detail could even be shorter.

Mr.Isaacson, keep writing please !
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VINE VOICEon 1 May 2007
Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein creates a fuller better rounded image of one of the finest minds of the 20th Century than many biographies of Einstein. Although it's not without its flaws, Issacson's book covers much of Einstein's life pointing out both his successes and flaws as both a person and physicist.

We learn that as a child Einstein suffered from what could be echolalia (which is where you mutter a phrase to yourself multiple times before saying it to others). Issacson notes both Einstein's debt to Hume, Planck and philosphers such as Kant in helping develop both his world view and his breakthroughs in science. To his credit Isaacson also points out that the man that came to embody the modern view of physics and became a hero had feet of clay; Einstein gave up his daughter for adoption without ever seeing her and spent much of his time away from Mileva (who would eventually become his first wife) while she was pregnant for a variety of reasons some understandable some not. The young Einstein was brash,egotistic and obnoxious (or you could call him overly confident) often pointing out flaws in papers by the very professors he was seeking jobs from. He also charts Einstein's difficult path to his professorship including his stint working in the Swiss patent office.

Isaacson does cover Einstein's support for the development of the atomic bomb (although this is a relatively small section of the biography) and mentions that Einstein later regreted the bombing that occurred in Japan during World War II. When Einstein came up with this famous equation, he never imagined it would be used for mass destruction. He was conflicted over his role in the development of the atomic bomb feeling both responsibility and guilty over his role. This guilt shaped his role in leading the charge for a world government that would prevent individual nations from using the atomic bomb. He later stated that if he had known Germany wasn't going to be able to develop the atomic bomb, he "never would have lifted a finger" to prompt the United States to develop this weapon of mass destruction. He never forgave the German people for their role in trying to exterminate Jews and others prohibiting sale of his books in post-war Germany and stated that he felt the country should continue to be punished for what occurred. Isaacson addresses some of the contradictions of the man of peace who contributed and supported war showing that while Einstein had his absolute convicitions they could sometimes shift depending on the circumstances. Einstein never pretended to be perfect and Isaacson does a good job of portraying the flawed but brilliant human being at the core of all that brain power. The biggest surprise for me was discovering that he unwittingly had an affair with a Soviet spy.

Most importantly the author manages to give understandable explanations of Einstein's theories and how he came up with many of them. One can't understand Einstein's world without understanding his world view or the way that his papers/theories altered the world we live in today. I'd recommend this book for the compelling human portrait that Isaacson creates of one of the leading figures of science in the 20th Century.
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on 2 August 2009
This was a book that was chosen for me by being a member of a Book Club. I would not have chosen it for myself.

I enjoyed the way the book unfolded and it was possible to read it like a story, not a dry worthy biography.

The author presents the whole Einstein. There is no attempt to glam it up. And I am learning some science as I go along.
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VINE VOICEon 14 April 2013
This is a very fine biography of Einstein; it is both comprehensive and succinct and gives a clear sense of Einstein as scientist, political activist, friend and family member. His scientific achievements are naturally covered in detail, but in an approachable way; I'm not a scientist, yet I found it fairly easy to follow Isaacson's descriptions, and his explanations helped me to appreciate the magnitude of Einstein's scientific achievements. The character study is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book; Isaacson gives a clear sense of Einstein's complicated relationships with his two wives, children, step-children and work colleagues and opponents, exploring the ways in which he was able to find refuge from domestic problems in his scientific work, from which little could distract him. His deeply-held political views are also thoroughly explored, and his opposition to nationalism, pacifist instincts, and reflections on human nature are very thought-provoking and highly relevant today. Highly recommended.
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on 27 August 2009
I'm not altogether sure about it. Growing up, we all learn a fair bit about Einstein, and anyone who studies Science for any period of time probably "hero worships" him a little (as the epitome of all things scientific at least). He's probably the most famous scientist on Earth, and everyone who is aware of anything in science knows his famous equation.

Despite the fact that I wanted to like Einstein and I've a Chemistry degree, I found the book a hard read. I suspect most people might agree with me. Non-scientists might think about the science involved "a challenge," most people will think he wasn't pleasant to his first wife and kids, by the end of this book, and most might find him egocentric, and a little inflexible by the end of the book.

If you can cope with the sensation that your ideals about a hero have been shattered, read this book. If you can't don't. I guarentee you will have a more rounded, and less likeable, view of the man by the end of this book.
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on 24 April 2012
An interesting biography of a very complex man. I found it very difficult to follow all the discussions around relativity, time, space and physics in general, nonetheless I'm sure Isaacson made a great job of describing Einstein's break-throughs in this field.
Easier to read and somehow more valuable are the parts about the private Einstein, the one who never got around to visit his very sick son and that only in later age managed to establish a reasonable relationship with his elder son. What comes out from this lengthy biography is the picture of a difficult man, aloof from every day's practical priorities and bent to to find a mathematical demonstration of his theories. A man fundamentally incapable for most of his life to show love and affection for anybody, not even his closest relatives, yet incredibly sharp in appreciating and postulating formidably difficult problems. Extremely well documented, this book manages to correct some of the myths associated with Einstein - such as his role in the development of the nuclear bomb or his controversial relationship with the Jews and the state of Israel. Isaacson does a great job to provide insights into less known happenings in Einstein's life, like his love for publicity hidden behind a not completely genuine - and much stereotyped -behavior of the wild haired genius who prefers to work alone in his attic studio. Some readers will be disappointed, but I think Isaacson does justice to the man, to detriment of the myth. At over 700 pages, a long and at times tiring read.
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on 25 April 2008
This is an excellent Einstein biography. I really love it; a real page-turner, completely captured my attention for several of days, until I finished with a sensation of wanting for more. No doubt it was very well researched, and includes new details uncovered from Einstein's letters recently made available for the public. Very well written, and Isaacson ability to explain complex science is outstanding, although my guess is that more than a bit of basic knowledge of physics is required to fully grasp the scientific discussions of relativity, quantum mechanics and the like.

The book is particularly insightful in recounting how Einstein developed his theories, just with thought experiments; his rebellious attitude toward authority of any kind; his endless fight against quantum theory (now I do understood what he meant and why he died thinking that God does not play dice); the controversies and interactions with the other scientific giants of his time; and his failure to develop a unified field theory, all of these aspects leading smoothly to the understanding on how he developed not only his revolutionary theories, but his philosophy about science, education, politics, and God. Also, the book goes into deep details on how he went from apolitical to an activist on Zionism, and from a pacifist to a supporter of the US entering WWII; his limited but key role on the US development of the atomic bomb, and afterwards, his regret; closing with his stand against McCarthyism. And because nobody is perfect, the biography shows his main weakness, throughout his life he was a lousy father and husband.

Coming back to the science, I had always been curious in understanding how Einstein came up with his theories without experimentation; even Newton did experiments to develop his laws. This biography explains in minute detail how he did it through his clever thought experiments. Also, the recount presented provides a good idea on how science progresses, from Einstein's fight against the prevailing paradigms in the beginning of his career, to Einstein's stubborn skepticism against the new paradigm he himself contributed to develop, quantum mechanics. Also I found fascinating how the more he used his thought experiments in trying to falsify quantum mechanics, the more the theory got reinforced. A good example on how the real scientific method works, illustrating the importance of an open debate for science to get closer to the truth. Also a really good historic example for those who believe that scientific theories can be proven by consensus.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in modern physics, cosmology, the history of science, philosophy of science, or just Einstein's admirers.

PD: Finally, a word of advice for some readers in order to avoid disappointment based on the majority of positives reviews. Me and the other reviewers who gave five stars to the book might have been carried away, but I think it is very likely that most of us have a decent background on physics, and/or have read a lot about cosmology, or just have a good grasp of hard sci-fi. Readers have to be aware of the complexity of several of the scientific explanations. So, despite Isaacson's clarity in explaining the science, some parts of the book are not Carl Sagan stuff. If you have read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", or Paul Davies' "God and the New Physics", or any similar books on modern astrophysics and cosmology, and didn't like them, couldn't understand much, or simply got bored, then this caveat might apply to you. But if you are really interested in Einstein's life and achievements, my advice is to try and just skip the more technical parts, the book is still very interesting without the technical stuff.
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