cover image The Einsteinian Revolution: The Historical Roots of His Breakthrough

The Einsteinian Revolution: The Historical Roots of His Breakthrough

Hanoch Gutfreund and Jürgen Renn. Princeton Univ, $32 (296p) ISBN 978-0-691-16876-0

Albert Einstein’s breakthroughs were the product of a long-brewing evolution in physics and “broad dialogue” between himself, “friends, colleagues and peers,” according to this impenetrable treatise. Gutfreund, a retired Hebrew University of Jerusalem physics professor, and Renn, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, follow up their 2020 collaboration Einstein on Einstein with specialized discussions of how the Nobel winner’s major innovations were merely the latest steps forward in the gradual evolution of scientific thought. For instance, they describe how Einstein’s 1905 hypothesis that “light behaves as though it consists of particles” depended on his taking literally the “light quanta” fellow physicist Max Planck postulated as a “mathematical device” several years earlier. The authors also debunk the notion that Einstein was a “solitary genius,” noting that he credited his conversations with engineer Michele Besso for helping him crack his special theory of relativity. Despite Gutfreund and Renn’s intent to make this “accessible to a broader community” than the monograph it’s adapted from, a solid background in physics is required to follow the technical arguments (“Einstein then derived the entropy of monochromatic radiation in the high-frequency range, corresponding to the range of validity of what was known as Wien’s law of spectral distribution”). Generalists will be left in the dark. (Dec.)