Einstein and Friends: 100 Years of the General Theory of Relativity and Other Breakthroughs

In 1902, a young man who had recently gained Swiss citizenship found a job as an examiner at the country’s patent office. His work there was heavily involved with patent applications for devices that attempted the electrical-mechanical synchronization of time. By November 1915, Albert Einstein had left the office for academia. That same year, in part influenced by the thinking and tasks he performed at the patent office, Einstein finished work on a general theory of relativity. This centenary year sees many publications about the scientist and his achievements. Listed below are such titles along with forthcoming and recent works on other scientific breakthroughs. Though it was Newton who said that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Einstein drew upon the work of earlier geniuses, too.

Calaprice, Alice, & others. An Einstein Encyclopedia. Princeton Univ. Nov. 2015. 368p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780691141749. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400873364. SCI

einsteinencyclopedia81415This is the most comprehensive book on Einstein published to coincide with the centenary of his general theory of relativity. Coauthored by Calaprice, ­Daniel Kennefick, and Robert Schulman, three leading Einstein scholars, it covers the Nobel Prize winner’s life (1879–1955) and work in detail, with entries on his influence on science and society. Photographs and illustrations—cartoons of the great inventor, for example, and scientific diagrams—enhance the presentation, which further offers meticulous documentation and carefully chronicles Einstein’s academic output. Princeton has also rereleased Andrew Robinson’s Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity. The revised edition of a 2005 work includes a new afterword by Diana Kormos Buchwald, director of the ­Einstein Papers Project.

Canales, Jimena. The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time. Princeton Univ. 2015. 464p. ISBN 9780691165349. $35. ebk. ISBN 9781400865772. sci

Canales (Thomas M. Siebel Chair in the History of Science, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; A Tenth of a Second) tells the story of a 1922 academic showdown between Albert Einstein and philosopher Henri Bergson, in which the men publicly debated the nature of time. Taking place during an era that saw the first wristwatches and other intriguing mechanical inventions, the debate, explains Canales, took on great significance in the public eye and provoked changes to American pragmatism that still reverberate today.

Cohen, H. Floris. The Rise of Modern Science Explained: A Comparative History. Cambridge Univ. Oct. 2015. 275p. ISBN 9781107545601. pap. $29.99. SCI

Cohen (comparative history of science, Univ. of Utrecht) studies why, in the 1600s, European scientists including Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, and Francis Bacon emerged with such revolutionary theories—thinking that allowed Isaac Newton to later formulate his laws and writings. What was it about the cultural climate of Europe at the time, and how did the men develop their ideas?

Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and General Theory: 100th Anniversary Edition. ed. by Hanoch Gutfreund & Jürgen Renn. Princeton Univ. 2015. 312p. photos. ISBN 9780691166339. $26.95. SCI

Einstein’s 1915 explanation of relativity for a general audience was translated into ten languages in the decade following its publication, and 15 editions of it were released in his lifetime. Here, an authoritative translation is accompanied by valuable context-providing extras: an introduction by Gutfreund (Andre Aisenstadt Chair in Theoretical Physics, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) and Renn (historian of science; director, Max Planck Inst. for the History of Science, Berlin) that delves into Einstein’s approaches and analyses from today’s vantage point. The book additionally supplies introductions and covers of earlier editions of Einstein’s writings and a sample of his manuscript, in his own penmanship.

Greene, Mott T. Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift. Johns Hopkins. Oct. 2015. 720p. illus. ISBN 9781421417127. $44.95; ebk. ISBN 9781421417134. SCI

Alfred Wegener (1880–1930), the German scientist who discovered continental drift, made contributions to geology, geophysics, meteorology, and more, all while enduring poor finances, wartime, a lack of scientific support, and illness. Greene’s (earth & space sciences. Univ. of Washington, Seattle) research involves primary sources as well as his studies from travels for the book as far as the Greenland icecap, the destination Wegener was trying to reach when he died of exhaustion.

Gutfreund, Hanoch & Jürgen Renn. The Road to Relativity: The History and Meaning of Einstein’s “The Foundation of General Relativity.” Princeton Univ. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780691162539. $35. SCI

Einstein’s journey to his groundbreaking 1915 publication on general relativity is chronicled here in a work that traces the scientist’s evolution as a thinker. A facsimile of Einstein’s handwritten treatises is accompanied by an English translation, commentary, and more.

Halpern, Paul. Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness To Create a Unified Theory of Physics. Basic. 2015. 336p. photos. notes. ISBN 9780465075713. $27.99. SCI

Halpern (physics, Univ. of the Sciences, Philadelphia; Collider; Brave New Universe) describes a clash between Einstein and fellow Nobel Prize–winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger. The two men, who previously corresponded and were supportive of each other’s work, differed when it came to their ideas for a theory unifying gravity and electromagnetism. The ensuing media firestorm is related by Halpern and intertwined with events from the men’s lives and events in the wider world. (LJ 2/15/15)

Levenson, Thomas. The Hunt for Vulcan…And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe. Random. Nov. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780812998986. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812988291. sci

vulcan81915For more than 60 years before 1915, scientists searched for Vulcan, a missing planet whose gravitational pull could explain Mercury’s orbit. In 1915, however, when Einstein announced his theory of general relativity, the search was over, as his work proved that no such planet existed or ever had. Levenson (science writing; director, graduate program in science writing, MIT) covers from Edmond Halley’s research in 1600s England to the World War I era to describe forerunners to Einstein, the genuis’s innovations, and the implications of his theory to cosmology.

Love, David. Kepler and the Universe: How One Man Revolutionized Astronomy. Prometheus. Nov. 2015. 255p. ISBN 9781633881068. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781633881075. sci

The child of an accused witch, German scientist Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) transformed astronomy by being the first to discuss a theory of gravity. He encoded laws of planetary motion that improved upon Galileo’s work in demonstrating how the planets orbit the sun and that continue to be used today. In material that is accompanied by drawings related to Kepler’s theories and by artifacts from his life, Love, who has a degree in astronomy from University College London and lectures on the history of the science and the evolution of the universe, not only outlines his subject’s contributions but paints a portrait of the hardship he withstood witnessing eight of his 12 children die.

Netwon’s Apple and Other Myths About Science. Harvard Univ. Nov. 2015. 294p. ed. by Ronald L. Numbers & Kostas Kampourakis. ISBN 9780674967984. $27.95. sci

Many of the facts we think we know about science—that Isaac Newton has an epiphany about gravity when an apple fell on his head, for example—are apocryphal. These essays by science and other historians challenge the idea that science is an endeavor that jumps forward because of the discoveries or inventions of individuals, explaining that it is instead advanced by the accretion of tiny breakthroughs made by multitudes over time.

Westfall, Richard S. The Life of Isaac Newton. (Canto Classics). Cambridge Univ. Oct. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781107569850. $19.99. sci

Science historian Westfall presents here an abridged version of his 1980 classic Never at Rest. While shorter, the volume covers the same scope as its parent text: the life, work, and times of Isaac Newton (1643–1727), addressing his varied roles as a private man, theologian, Warden of the Royal Mint, and more.

Henrietta Verma is Editor, LJ Reviews

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Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma is Senior Editorial Communications Specialist at NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore, and was formerly the reviews editor at Library Journal.