Einstein and the Quantum

EinsteinEinstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian
A. Douglas Stone
339 pages
Princeton University Press (October 6, 2013)
Kindle Edition  $16.17, Amazon Hardcover  $22.41

This book got great reviews when it first was published, and Ira Flatow of Science Friday (formerly produced by  National Public Radio, now distributed by Public Radio International) made a point of calling it out as one of the best science books of 2013. I was somewhat disappointed.

There is a lot of history in this book. There is the story of Einstein’s early career, and his interactions with the likes of Max Planck, on whose work he built. Stone describes Einstein’s contentious relationship with his professors, and how that hindered his academic career. There’s an account of how Einstein made it through the First World War, and his having to deal with anti-Semitism in Germany during the years after.

There is also a lot of physics here: formulas and theories. That is something I don’t follow well, and while Stone tries to make these concepts clear for the general reader, they were not as clear as they might be. I’ve read books by other popularizers of physics who did a better job of making such concepts clear.

Einstein contributed much to the foundation of quantum theory before his famous statement that “God does not play dice with the universe.”  What left me unsatisfied at the end of the book was that I did not have a clear picture where Einstein last contributed to quantum theory and where he abandoned it. But then, maybe there is no such clear division. The book suggests that he simply moved on to other topics that grabbed his interest. As the “new quantum theory” was developed, its emphasis on the random and uncertain, did not, I surmise, sit well with Einstein.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in Einstein’s early and, to a lesser extent, middle years, there’s plenty here to keep your attention.

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