Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Magazine Review: Time Magazine's "Albert Einstein: The Enduring Legacy of a Modern Genius"

Albert Einstein was a ladies man? Who married his first cousin? And he was how old when he re-invented physics?

From the cover of one of the latest Time Magazine special issues, Albert Einstein stares down grocery store shoppers and book store browsers, his iconic hair and mustache identifiable from aisles away.

Though his face may be recognizable around the world, who the real Einstein was and what he did in his lifetime may not be as familiar to all who know his name.

Time Magazine's Special issue "Albert Einstein: The Enduring Legacy of a Modern Genius" exhibits the ultimate physics superstar in 94 glossy pages packed with photos. Starting with his birth and education - including the saucy romances of his teenage years - author Richard Lacayo takes us through the genius's heyday and later years, interjecting several digestible doses of hard-core physics along the way. Lacayo intimates to us what Einstein was like as a real person - with his unkempt hair and his clothes so disheveled, colleagues actually complained to him about it.

Born in Germany in 1879, a family maid once called Einstein the "dopey one." In fact, the odd shape of the newborn's head led his parents to fear he would be mentally impaired. (Luckily, they were wrong.)

As a teenager, the German schooling environment, which Einstein found authoritarian, chafed at him until he dropped out. At the urging of his parents, however, he went back to school in Switzerland and in 1906 received his doctorate from the University of Zurich - but not before marrying the mother of his illegitimate child. (The pair later divorced.)

The Einstein known by most of the world emerged in 1905. That was the year the 26-year-old published the two papers that made him internationally known; the first, in which he explained that light can be both a particle and a wave, earned him a 1921 Nobel Prize. (The Nobel committee took a year debating which of Einstein's papers ought to be the one that earned him the prize).

In between the details of Einstein's life, the Time issue includes three short sections on the science surrounding his legacy. The first explains how physicists understood the universe before his groundbreaking 1905 paper when Newton's laws were king. It also details inconsistencies that had begun to creep up in the mid 1800s which remained unsolved until Einstein came along.

Another deviation explains Einstein's special theory of relativity. Not something to be easily understood, the magazine uses a graphical example of a man measuring the speed of light on a moving train to make special relativity surprisingly tangible. Lastly, a two-page spread visualizes Einstein's general theory of relativity, showing how gravity is not a force, as Newton said, but instead a warping of space-time.

For it's role as part biography and part science writing, the Einstein issue gets two thumbs up. It can't be easy to turn quantum mechanics and general relativity into a page turner, but Lacayao manages it, perhaps with a little help from the unique persona of this physics genius. Well worth the $13 U.S. list price, the magazine will be on news stands until early October.

[Click here for a Time Magazine photo slide show of Einstein.]

1 comment:

  1. Einstein was right about the shortcomings of Quantum Mechanics and so therefore String Theory is also the incorrect approach. As an alternative to Quantum Theory there is a new theory that describes and explains the mysteries of physical reality. While not disrespecting the value of Quantum Mechanics as a tool to explain the role of quanta in our universe. This theory states that there is also a classical explanation for the paradoxes such as EPR and the Wave-Particle Duality. The Theory is called the Theory of Super Relativity. This theory is a philosophical attempt to reconnect the physical universe to realism and deterministic concepts. It explains the mysterious.