Friday, December 30, 2011

Einstein: His life and Universe

When I heard that a biography of Steve Jobs is going to come out soon, I was more curious than excited. I was curious to know who is author of the book and which are his previous books. Having read about Steve Jobs's perfectionalist nature I was assuming, correctly, that Steve Jobs might have cherrypicked the author to write about his life and work - Walter Isaacson. Walter Isaacson's previous work include biographies on Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Kissinger. I would not be surprised if Steve Jobs believed himself to be the successor of these famous personalities in terms of 'making a dent in the universe'.

Reading a biography is usually a better use of time as compared to reading a fiction - mainly, because you learn a lot about human achievements and sufferings and also a bit of our history. I enjoyed reading Einstein. Before reading the book I didn't know much about Einstein apart from his relativity theory and his 'rockstar' status as a scientist. The books explains how he got that 'rockstar' status - well he made good use of his fame to promote anti-war campaigns during war time, never shied away from press and gave then many sleazy one liners to write in their papers. He was very outgoing person as opposed to the introvert nature that people perceive of scientists. He was a german jew who hated Hitler's guts, and unsurprisingly was given first-class treatment in US when he decided to live here. I wonder if for some bizzare reason Einstein had sided with Hitler then whether he would have been as popular as he is today. Nevertheless he was / is perceived as the most intelligent man ever lived on our planet.

Walter has done an impressive job digging through letters, newspapers, meeting second / third generation relatives of Einstein to get useful information about him. The last 150 pages of the book list all the references that had made this book happen. The thing that strike me the most about Einstein is that his best work in professional life came during his worst time in his personal life. He was succesfully able to shut down all the tragic moments (failed marriage / failed parenting) from his mind while working on his theories. Here are some of the highlights from his life:

- He decided to not join industry because he believed that he is destined to do something much bigger.
- He didn't have a Masters / Doctoral degree. He got a diploma certificate from a polytechnic college.
- He did most of his ground breaking theories while working in a patent office, alone and away from all researchers and academia.
- Being a theoretical physicist most of his work are thought experiments i.e. day dreaming about situations that start with 'What if'.

Rating : 4 / 5