Book Review: “Einstein: His life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson

Einstein, well known for Theory of Relativity, has a rather adventurous life. The following stand out for me:

– Not particular good at math but eventually warmed up to math because he needed to solve his physics problems. Very pragmatic.

– It helps to have a good sounding board like Michele Besso, his best friend, and his Olympiad group that allow all the great minds to debate and challenge one another. This may have contributed a great deal to his accomplishment.

– His relationship with his first wife, a fellow physics classmate, was all about his passion for the same subject. It’s like have a soul mate. She might have contributed to it by being his sounding board. He eventually divorced his first wife and gave all his Nobel prize winning to her and their two Children. His second child came down with mental illness. And his eventually married his cousin, who was more of his opposite, protector and business manager and left him pretty alone. Strange that a mature relationship tend to be a symbiosis-type.

– A general rebellious attitude toward establishment, Newtonian theory, prompted him to question and came up with the Theory of Relativity. Sometimes, it takes a rebel to make the paradigm shift.

– His appreciation for simplicity was out of his own belief that God would not make nature too complicated for man kind. This allowed him to put two and two together, combining EM wave theory with Newtonian Law. The example about the man in the train and the synchronicity of time and space is very brilliant. Of course, it helps to work in a patent office next to train station with a clock tower. It’s amazing how our environment plays a huge role in how we perceive the world.

– Of course, his rigid idea about how a grand unified theory should be able to explain the entire universe include quantum mechanics also pushed him to doubt the quantum mechanics as being incomplete and forced him to purse the unified theory until his death. Sometimes a certain way of thinking – like a business model – can help you to reach fame and can sink you at the end because you’re not able to adapt to a new model.

– Einstein, being born into Germany at its most turbulent time, has a great international perspective about the good and evil of mankind. His fear for the use of mass-destruction weapons prompted him to advocate mutual arm reduction among the superpower nations. His famous letter to Franklin Roosevelt resulted in the creation of the Manhattan project, the Atomic Bomb. Though he was wrong that German scientists were pursuing the same bomb, the end result is that it ended the world war in Asia and brought about the nuclear era.

– Einstein enjoyed his celebrity statute and yet lived a very simple life. He used his fame to advance his course including the establishment of Israel, after seeing first hand how his people was treated by Germen. And yet he was prophetic in his urge to live peacefully with Arabs or suffer the dire consequence.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to this abridged audio book. It’s fascinating to see how he arrived at all the theories – the bending of light due to gravity, general theory of relativity, and etc. It’s also comforting to see a great man so down to earth with all the same problems we have – relationship with spouses, children, colleagues, and the academia world. Too bad, he didn’t live long enough to see the how quantum mechanic has transformed the world as we know today w.r.t. to the internet and computer. It would be great if he can come up with the grand unified theory. But we’ll need to wait for the next Einstein…