Book review: Einstein's Greatest Mistake by David Bodanis

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, October 07, 2016

The cover of David Bodanis’ Einstein’s Greatest Mistake.

Targeting Albert Einstein with a modern book is a brave thing. Like so many other extremely well known personalities, the existing literature is vast, and so many little details of these people’s lives have been scrutinized, interpreted, and reinterpreted many times over. It is a quite rare thing to read a work that attacks a well-known subject in a fresh, original, and highly entertaining way.

But that is exactly what David Bodanis has achieved with Albert Einstein in a terrific new biography, Einstein’s Greatest Mistake: A Biography (280 pp., hardcover, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2016, $27; ISBN 978–0–544–80856–0).

Bodanis examines Einstein, his life and work, from the lens of his personal associations — friendships, scientific associations, faith, and close relationships. Einstein’s “greatest blunder” of applying the cosmological constant to general relativity plays a key role. The author describes Einstein‘s later years and wander away from the scientific mainstream and close associations with most of his physicist colleagues.

He also lays out the romantic and family relationships in excellent detail, and examines Einstein’s complex relationship with religion and the philosophy of science.

The author’s style is highly entertaining. The composition of the manuscript, interweaving stories of people, of scientific principles, of Einstein’s forward vision and troubling challenges, form a narrative that science readers will admire.

For anyone interested in the greatest scientist of our time, this book should be required reading. There is no doubting it will be delightful reading.

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