Personally modest, passionate on issues of social justice, deeply principled, often unorthodox, Albert Einstein was a complex, fascinating man, as brilliant when writing about pacifism, religion and anti-Semitism as about theoretical physics. Ideas and Opinions is a wonderfully engrossing collection of Einstein’s major articles, speeches and letters on all these subjects, and more.
Born in Germany to a secular Jewish family, Einstein showed early promise in maths and physics, but failed to find a university post until he was brought to the notice of the scientific world with four groundbreaking papers. All were published while he was still working in the patent office in Berne, during his annus mirabilis of 1905. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, Einstein became internationally renowned, but in 1933 he was forced to flee from the Nazis to America, moving permanently to Princeton University. This collection brings together his popular lectures and articles on geometry, relativity, gravitational theory and scientific ethics, alongside a precis of his principal scientific theories by Professor Valentine Bargmann, a colleague at Princeton, giving the reader an invaluable perspective on Einstein’s singular genius. His keen intellect strays far beyond the realm of science, however, and here we can absorb his humane and thoughtful views on subjects ranging from first impressions of America in 1921 to concerns over nuclear weapons in the late 1940s. He is eloquent, and often witty, as on the topic of scientific committees (‘Can you imagine an organisation of scientists making the discoveries of Charles Darwin?’) and education (‘The only rational way of educating is to be an example – if one can’t help it, a warning example.’) One of the most lauded figures of his century, Einstein was profuse in his praise of others, as shown in his correspondence and open letters to figures such as Sigmund Freud, Max Planck, Mahatma Gandhi and Marie Curie. In this edition, a newly commissioned introduction by science writer David Bodanis sheds additional light on Einstein and his work. Readers may begin the book wishing to know more about the world’s greatest scientist: most will end it wishing they had known the man.