cover image Einstein: A Biography

Einstein: A Biography

Jurgen Neffe, , trans. from the German by Shelley Frisch. . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (461pp) ISBN 978-0-374-14664-1

Rarely has a single individual been so farsighted and myopic at the same time," Neffe observes, setting off to illuminate the truth behind the legend of Albert Einstein. This expanded version of Neffe's acclaimed biography first published in Germany in 2005 takes advantage of newly discovered documents, including the diaries of Einstein's Berlin physician, János Plesch, and letters from Einstein to his first wife, Mileva, and his sons, Hans Albert and Eduard. The biography is structured topically, with chapters devoted to Einstein's childhood and early schooling, his friendships, his physics research and how politics affected his work. Neffe repeatedly cites Einstein's dual nature: intelligent and serious, while simultaneously "childlike" and cheerful; a man whose theory of relativity changed the way we see the universe, yet who professed a decided "ambivalence" for the modern art and music influenced by his discoveries. Coupling insights into Einstein's character with clear descriptions of the physicist's groundbreaking research, Neffe creates a fascinating portrait of this "egocentric loner with a sense of responsibility for all mankind," one of the most intriguing figures of the 20th century. While Walter Isaacson's new biography is bound to be the big seller, Neffe is more straightforward on Einstein's less appealing traits: the misogynist, the curmudgeon, the passive-aggressive father. (Apr.)