Monday, July 6, 2009

You're no Einstein: five best

Walter Isaacson is the author of Einstein: His Life and Universe (April 2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986).

In 2005, for the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books that "compare Einstein with other great minds."

One title on the list:
"Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps" by Peter Galison (Norton, 2003).

We've seen much hoopla in 2005 regarding the centennial of Albert Einstein's miracle year, when he published seminal papers on special relativity and the quantum nature of light. Several smart books on Einstein were also published, adding to the growing library of works on this endlessly fascinating man. One particularly interesting approach of writers over the years has been to consider Einstein in tandem with another great genius and compare how their minds worked. Among the best of these is "Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps" and the four others that follow here. Henri Poincaré, the great polymath, hit on many elements of relativity just before Einstein did, but he did not make the full leap. Mr. Galison describes how Poincaré's study of time zones and Einstein's work in the Swiss patent office examining devices to synchronize clocks may have influenced their scientific thinking. Some scholars feel Mr. Galison goes too far. But this intriguing book provokes us all to wrestle with our own approach to ideas: How do various influences, conscious or not, flow together to produce a new concept?
Read about all five books on Isaacson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue