Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

Einstein Isaacson
Summary
  1. Isaacson doesn’t let us down with this huge undertaking of one of history’s most celebrated men. Isaacson dives through Einstein’s childhood, university life, family woes, and achievements. There is much reason for Einstein to be as lauded as he is
Key Takeaways:
  1. Einstein was always somewhat of a rebel. He didn’t really care if he fit in
  2. Believed that imagination and creativity are the key. They are more powerful than knowledge
  3. He was slow to talk and speak as a child – even dubbed the dopey one. Often repeated words an had a temper as a child
  4. Rarely thought in words – always pictures. Lead to lightning on train thought experiment as well as falling in an elevator in space to contemplate gravity
  5. Said he never lost his child like wonder and didn’t believe he was exceptionally intelligent or talented, but exceptionally curious
  6. Mileva Maric, his wife, was an ugly woman with a limp but she was smart and intense. His family did not approve but this made him rebel and like her more. Einstein had always had a strained relationship with his family and was never close with his son
  7. Hated blind following of authority more than anything. Questioned everything until he proved it to himself
  8. Einstein had 4 revolutionary papers in 4 months. They each changed the world. One of the most amazing bursts of creativity and intelligence in history. 1905 was one of the most revolutionary years in history – quantum theory of light, proved atoms exist, explained Brownian motion, upended concepts of space and time and his famous equation
    1. His first revolutionary idea was that light came in little packets, photons, and were not only a wave
    2. Second was the theory and later proven that particles and atoms definitely exist
    3. Third is special relativity – observers are moving at a constant velocity relative to each other. General relativity came 10 years later.
      1. If riding next to a beam of light at the same speed it should appear to be still although oscillating spatially. If everything was a wave there would have to be a universal “ether” which nobody had been able to prove and Einstein thought couldn’t exist
      2. Had 2 essential postulates – theory of relativity where all laws of physics are the same for two observers moving at the same speed and also for inert observers on moving object (people on earth, on a plane, etc.)
    4. Lastly, his world-known e=mc2 equation which determined that an object’s energy depended on its mass * the speed of light squred
  9. His key insight to solve that light moves at a constant velocity is that time is not absolute. What appears to be happening simultaneously to one observer will not appear so to another who is moving rapidly and there is no way to determine who is right
  10. Does not believe in a personal god but believes that a divine design permeates all things
  11. Einstein loved the water, sailing and the violin. He often was messing around with women other than his wife
  12. Einstein was a prominent pacifist
What I got out of it:
  1. Very interesting to learn more about Einstein the man, his background and his family life. His achievements are so well known but learning more about everything which surrounding his successes helps put them in context. Fascinating biography

Buy Einstein: His Life and Universe

  • Born in 1879 to Herman and Paulina Einstein. Had a sister named Maria
  • Einstein’s first wife agreed to divorce him if she could get the money from his novel prize – which she did, 17 years later
  • Gift of a compass from his father would spark his fascination with imaginary fields
  • Loved Mozart and would play the violin whenever he came to a dead end
  • As a young boy was quite religious but he stopped following religious practices at around 12 and was like that the rest if his life
  • Left Germany and wanted to revoke his citizenship. He went to Italy and then Austria to finish up school
  • Would play hookie a lot and would often just study whatever interested him more than class
  • Einstein had trouble finding a job after graduating but eventually became an assistant professor and then his infamous job st the patent office in 1902. First great idea in 1905
  • Mileva Maric, his wife, was an ugly woman with a limp but she was smart and intense. His family did not approve but this made him rebel and like her more
  • Ends up marrying Maric after she gives birth to their daughter. Einstein went through great lengths to remove all evidence of his daughter after she came down with scarlet fever. He rarely mentioned her in letters and there is no trace of her anywhere
  • Admitted that working in patent office greatly stimulated his thought process ad helped with the formation of his revolutionary ideas
  • If time is relative, so is speed and distance. There are some things which do not vary – space/time, speed of light
  • An observer on a train deck would observe time going by more slowly when a train sped past than someone on the train (time dilation)
  • Moves to Prague in 1911 for work
  • Marriage falling apart soon after and he starts flirting with his cousin Elsa
  • Eventually writes his wife a “contract” of how their relationship shall be – “you shall expect no intimacy from me…” But was heartbroken about losing his sons
  • General relativity thought experiment – person in an elevator feeling their feet pressed on the floor will not know the difference of accelerating upward in space or being stationary in a gravitational field. Same concept with weightlessness in the elevator
  • Gravity arises around the curvature of space/time
  • Would be able to see if gravity does indeed bend light during an eclipse and they waited a couple years but just only a month before the eclipse WWI broke out and the Russians seized Einstein’s teams’ astrological equipment wen they were in Crimea
  • Einstein always concerned with covariance – somebody moving at the same and constant speed as moving object should observe the same phenomenon as somebody at rest observing an object at rest
  • Very complicated relationship with Maric and his son hans Albert. He was impatient and distant with his family after the separation and eventual divorce
  • In 1917 Einstein started getting debilitating stomach pains. He lost close to 50lbs and he would occasionally get them for te rest of his life
  • There was a time when Einstein was debating if he wanted to marry his cousin Elsa or her mom, his aunt. This is perhaps not true and a ploy by Elsa to te the attention of another man
  • His marriage with Elsa was more a symbiosis. Not passionate or loving whatsoever
  • Received never before seen fame and popularity for an intellectual
  • Joined the Zionist movement and didn’t was opposed to Jews who simply assimilated
  • Einstein finally won the Nobel prize in 1921 but did not make the ceremony because he had been passed over so many times. He did not win for general relativity because at the time it was still pretty controversial, but he won for his discovery of the photoelectric effect
  • Became world famous in 1919 at age 40 after gravity bending light was confirmed and would keep making important contributions until age 46 but after that was somewhat stubborn
  • Was unsure of quantum mechanics – not that it was incorrect but that it was incomplete
  • Edward, Einstein’s youngest son, had some psychological issues and was very into psychology. Tried to commit suicide
  • Einstein became a us citizen and resided near Princeton. Soon after, in 1936, Elsa died an he took it harder than he thought he would
  • Was trying to disprove quantum entanglement for a while – where 2 particles who are at a distance from each other are somehow connected and when one particle changes direction, so will the other. This “spooky action at a distance” was confirmed in the 1980s. The 2 are considered one physical entity although separate and they do not send out signals (which would have to move faster than the speed of light since it is instantaneous but relativity survives)
  • Wanted to try to find a unified government structure – something bigger and more powerful than the UN to help quell disputes and stop wars
  • Government did a check on Einstein to see if he was a spy and they found no incriminating evidence. Einstein did unwittingly have an affair with a Russian spy tho but the govt never found this out
  • He was against the creation of Israel as a state but after it’s first president died he was tapped as successor but said no
  • His last day alive was spent with what he had been trying to resolve for years – the unified world theory.
  • Died April 18, 1955 at age 76
  • The pathologist without permission took and embalmed Einstein’s brain during the autopsy. Thomas Harvey had the brain for 40 years and would send pieces of it to different researchers.

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