Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Einstein on the Road – Josef Eisinger ***

There is a huge industry of books that have Einstein as their subject, more so than any other scientist. And not just biographies. There is even a book that consists entirely of quotes from the Sainted Albert. So it is no entirely surprising that someone has found a new way to slice and dice the Einstein legend – by retelling the great man’s travel diaries.
In a relatively slim 165 pages (once one has extracted the notes and index), Josef Eisinger takes us with Einstein on his visits abroad from the exotic far East to the less bewitching Pasadena. And it is faintly interesting. Einstein, for instance, really struggled with Japanese music, because for him harmony was so important in the construction of music. And pined for his violin when he didn’t get a chance to play it (but not for the fjords).
There is a lot more of the social niceties here than any scientific insights. It is distinctly surprising just how much Einstein was feted as a superstar as he travelled the world. And how often he had to sit through boring speeches and formal occasions. He seems to have often been treated more like royalty than a working scientist. But it is hard to get particularly excited about what we read.
There isn’t enough detail here for a research writing a biography of Einstein – he or she would want to go to the original travel diaries. But there isn’t enough of interest or of science to capture a more general audience. For all that it opens up a (very mundane) slice of the mystery that is Einstein, this is a book that will be appreciated by a narrow audience.
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Review by Peter Spitz

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