EINSTEIN: A LIFE IN SCIENCE is aptly named. On the one hand, it is a reasonably good account of Einstein’s life; on the other, it is an excellent introduction to his scientific work. As a biography, EINSTEIN succeeds best when discussing his professional advancement, for it gives full descriptions of how Einstein acquired his positions at Zurich, Berlin, and Princeton and the politics which he encountered in all these situations. It is less successful, though, as a personal biography and offers few new insights into his marriages or his relationship with his children.
These shortcomings are more than compensated for by the book’s splendid discussion of Einstein’s work in theoretical physics. Gribbin (who wrote the scientific chapters) goes into considerable depth while remaining accessible to the lay reader. There is a fine description of how Einstein derived the special and general theories of relativity. Moreover, Gribbin delves into Einstein’s early papers on molecular motion and his contribution to quantum theory, a branch of theoretical physics which he eventually rejected. These are challenging but rewarding chapters which effectively convey the impact of Einstein’s ideas.
The picture which emerges is of a great theoretical physicist who solved problems mainly by thinking about things from new perspectives. Einstein was no great experimenter; confirmation of his theories had to come from other scientists. Nor was he a great statesman; his forays into pacificism or the Zionist cause had an amateurish air about them. White and Gribbin, then, were right in focusing on Einstein’s scientific life and in emphasizing the unique contributions Einstein made to humans’ understanding of the universe around them.