Michael White and John Gribbin


A Life in Science

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2000).

This is a short biography of Einstein for the general reader with little or no knowledge of science. There are no great surprises, but the authors seek to counteract some recent allegations that Einstein was an incorrigible womaniser, was totally neglectful of his family, or failed to acknowledge that his first wife Mileva made an important contribution to the special theory of relativity (it appears she just checked Einstein's arithmetic). White and Gribbin appear to be puzzled about why Einstein was attracted to Mileva in the first place, and are unsurprised by his subsequent decision to divorce her and marry his cousin Elsa, who provided the support he needed to get on with his intellectual work without unnecessary distractions.

Einstein was one of those exceptional scientists who, like Stephen Hawking today, become prototypes of what the public expect a genius to be like. Part of the myth surrounding such figures includes the notion that their ideas are so fantastically abstruse that no ordinary mortal can hope to understand what they are talking about. White and Gribbin rightly wish to show that this is nonsense; they insist that it is indeed possible to express deep theories of physics in everyday language, and on the whole they make their point, although some of their descriptions, for example the account of the 'twins paradox', are excessively brief and in consequence rather unclear.

The concluding section of the book deals with the long years that followed the development of the general relativity theory. Inevitably, these are something of an anticlimax, since Einstein spent this time largely in trying, and ultimately failing, to provide an alternative to the essential randomness of quantum mechanics. However, the authors don't think all this effort was wasted, since it prompted Niels Bohr to defend his position and counter the arguments which Einstein kept producing to try to convince him he was wrong. It is also possible that the current search for a comprehensive 'Theory of Everything' will succeed and Einstein will be vindicated posthumously.

%T Einstein
%S A Life in Science
%A White, Michael
%A Gribbin, John
%I Simon and Schuster
%C London
%D 1993
%G ISBN 0-671-01044-1
%P viii + 279 pp
%O Pocket Book Edition 1997
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