cover image Albert Einstein: A Biography

Albert Einstein: A Biography

Albrecht Folsing. Viking Books, $34.95 (889pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85545-2

Tracing the thoroughly fascinating life of one of the greatest of all physicists, a Jew who was at once a scientist-philosopher, a life-long pacifist and a ladies' man, this massive biography, extensively footnoted, presents an almost day-to-day account of the complex life of this most complex of individuals. Writing nearly 120 years after Einstein's birth, Folsing, longtime head of the Nature and Science Department of the North German Radio/Television Network, convincingly and painstakingly recreates the environment that spawned the clearest, most independent mind of 20th-century physics. Family, religion and nationality, early schooling, music, first loves and academic rejections-all contribute to the fractal-like portrait Folsing paints for the reader. We experience the dark side of Einstein, a man who never set eyes on his first-born child, and almost simultaneously follow developments through the annus mirabilis, the year 1905, when the virtual unknown, barely 26, published four of the most influential and cited papers ever published in science. We follow the correspondence between Einstein, then at the Swiss Patent Office, and the likes of Max Planck, Willhelm Roentgen (the first physics Nobel Laureate) and Hendrik Lorentz, continuing on to the fateful letter from Einstein and Leo Szilard to FDR that set in motion the Manhattan Project. Little wonder that fascination with Einstein continues undiminished, some four decades after his death. Based on a trove of newly discovered archival material, this book is a must read for the serious student of Einstein. It's marred by a stilted, pedantic style, however, that make it often tough going for any reader, dimming its prospects for a wide, or at least happy, general readership. (Mar.)