Social Scientist. v 12, no. 129 (Feb 1984) p. 79.


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BOOK REVIEW

ABRAHAM PAIS, 'SUBTLE IS THE LORD...' THE SCIENCE AND THE LIFE OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, Oxford University Press, 1982, p 552

THE ATTEMPT to write a biography of an individual of the stature of Einstein, to explore the workings of that mind is an arduous task. More so when the endeavour is not confined to an analysis of his scientific work but seeks to understand the age and traditions in which he worked, philosophised, loved music and literature and had the courage to take a forthright stand on major social issues affecting mankind. Abraham Pats's biography of Einstein does full justice to the title, the Science and the Life of Einstein. Since Einstein's life and work is so closely intertwined with the frontier areas of physics in the first half of the twentieth century it reads like the history of physics of that period.

Living in tumultuous times, both for mankind and his intellectual pursuit, which witnessed two world wars, the first proletarian revolution, rise and defeat of fascism, and a revolution of unprecedented magnitude in the physcial sciences which he himself heralded, Einstein's sensitivity and awareness of the implications of the advance of his discipline for makind led to his being considered the master of the twentieth century intellect, a spokesman for human hope. The legendary status that he acquired in his own life time was not merely due to the great discoveries that he made in physics, but in the popular imagination, was linked to his unceasing quest for harmony in natural and social phenomena.

Einstein's scientific achievements are a text-book affair now. G P Snow said, "It is pretty safe to say that, so long as physics lasts, no one will hack out three major breakthroughs in one year." The three breakthroughs all came in the year 1905. The outburst of creativity in that year is reflected in six papers:

(1) The light-quantum and the photo-electric effect, completed March 17. This paper, which led to his Nobel Prize in Physics, was produced before his Ph D thesis.

(2) A new determination of molecular dimensions, completed April 30. This was his doctoral thesis, and was to become the most often quoted of his papers in modern literature.

(3) Brownian motion, received May 11 (Annalen der Physick).

(4) The first paper on special relativity, received June 30.



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