Relatively Fascinating: The Radicalism of Albert Einstein [1]

[ Sat. Jul. 15. 2006 ]

He was a sexy flirt. He admitted to having difficulties with mathematics. He was only 12 when he decided that "the stories of the Bible could not be true and became a fanatical freethinker." His theory of relativity, which changed the way we view the world, "came from thinking about what it would be like to ride along on a beam of light." "The story goes that [he] liked to sleep ten hours a night -- unless he was working very hard on an idea; then it was eleven."

All these observations appear in My Einstein: Essays by Twenty-four of the World'sLeading Thinkers on the Man, His Work, and His Legacy , edited by John Brockman (Pantheon, $25), whose own devotion to "relative" thinking can be discerned in the title of his previous book, By the Late John Brockman . The essayists include Jeremy Bernstein, Gino C. Sergré and Maria Spiropulu, and the titles of their pieces range from the vaudevillian ("Einstein, Moe, and Joe") to the tantalizing ("The Greatest Discovery Einstein Didn't Make").

My Einstein delivers even more than its lengthy title promises. Philosopher Marcelo Gleiser's contribution helps explain why Einstein's ideas "became an obsession to so many. . . . In a world torn apart by the bloodiest war of all time, this Jewish scientist was proclaiming the existence of a reality wherein space and time are unified in a four-dimensional space-time, where space may contract and time may slow down, where matter is nothing but lumped-up energy. Who wouldn't want to step out of the miserable state that Europe was in in the early 1920s and into the rarefied atmosphere of a world beyond the senses?"

-- Dennis Drabelle