cover image The Murder of Albert Einstein

The Murder of Albert Einstein

Todd Gitlin. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-374-21617-7

Hard-boiled, sarcastic Margo Ross, producer-reporter for a 60 Minutes -like TV news program, gets a tip from her ex-mentor, radical-chic novelist Harry Kramer, that high levels of amphetamine in the preserved brain of Albert Einstein indicate the physicist's death was a murder. The great pacifist socialist Jewish scientist, in this entertaining debut novel, had many enemies, including ex-Nazis, a hippie philosopher-poet who visited him on his deathbed, a courtly Viennese mathematician who knew him at Princeton and a sharp-tongued Czech physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and later pushed for America to nuke Vietnam. As Margo and Harry, who become lovers, plunge into investigating a possible crime hushed up for 37 years, Gitlin, a Berkeley professor and well-known social critic ( Inside Prime Time ; The Sixties ), serves up biting commentary on how television frames and decontextualizes reality to fit its format. He also provides an unusual perspective on the century that spawned the Bomb, technologically engineered genocide and modern physics' search for a grand unified theory. The story doesn't quite come off, however, either as a thriller, a novel of ideas or a satire of TV, and the anticlimactic, improbable ending leaves the reader feeling frustrated. (Sept.)