Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Einstein by Walter Issacson

            It was a great pleasure reading biographies authored by Walter Issacson.  I stumbled upon his biography of Steve Job by chance.  I glanced through the pages very reluctantly.  I was not a computer enthusiast.  I use computers only after they became unavoidable aids.  What changed my view about Steve Job was his speech in a convocation function in his alma mater where he could not finish his studies.  I decided that I should read his biography. Only after starting one of my friends told me that Walter Issacson is one of the best Biographers in the world today.  I agreed with him once I finished his biography of Steve Job.  The way the life of Steve Job’s life was narrated was very endearing.  I was hooked to Issacson.

            I came to know of Einstein’s biography by Issacson when I finished the book on Steve.  I have heard about Einstein so often and his quotations have always attracted me.  He had said this about Mahatma Gandhi “Future generations will scarce believe that such as Man ever walked on earth”.   Einstein’s Biography by Walter Issacson was a pleasure to read.  He had all the efforts possible to simplify the scientific concepts to the level of school kids.  But myself, very poor in Physics could not understand most of the theories discussed in the book.  But the scientific theories are mentioned in the book only where it cannot be avoided. Rest of it is excellent. 

            Compass is an ordinary instrument for most of us.  But He as a kid was fascinated by the forces that are not visible which acted on the compass. That was the beginning of his scientific journey.  He said “ The fact that the magnetic needle behaved as if influenced by some hidden force field produced a sense of wonder”. It became the passion of his life to find the hidden forces and the laws that govern their interactions.

            He was as frail as any human being could be.  I had much in common with him in character except his scientific passion and achievement.  Anyone who reads him can identify with him.  To begin with he was a forgetful man like me.  Many times he used to forget to carry key to his house.  He had no respect for the concepts of Nationalism, Patriotism, and hated Militarism, fascism, racism, wars and many problems of the modern world.  He was above any prejudice.  Being a Jew, while he supported the state of Isreal, he refused to become its President when it was offered to him. He was sympathetic to the cause of Palestine people. He liked American political system for its freedom but was always expressed himself against inequality and racism.  He also conceded that soviet system had some advantages but hated the lack of freedom and individual rights.

            He wrote the famous letter to the President of the USA to form a committee of scientists to produce the nuclear bomb in order to prevent the German Nazi rulers from getting it first as it would lead to catastrophe. However, US government did not give him security clearance for participating in the project and never consulted him once the project started.   
            It was his activities that were beyond the sphere of science that attracted the attention of millions of people. They did not understand his theories but respected his views which were always independent of prejudices or controlled or guided by the interests of any narrow denomination.

            Because he believed that he was to pursue his scientific goal for the whole of humanity, he like Gandhi, gave more time and attention to the problems of science and humanity.  His first wife collaborated with him in the initial period.  When he found that his marriage to the first wife would distract his research he sought a divorce and after long negotiations was divorced.  But he promised that he had written and discovered a theory that would one day fetch him Nobel Prize and that he would give the money to her if she agrees for a divorce.  This clearly shows his attitude to family, life, science.

            Einstien and Neils Bohr differed on the Quantum theory.  Bohr formulated that Light can behave like a particle or a wave and the experiment to prove the theory would interfere with the results.  Their discussions and correspondence on the subject went on for a long time.  Each of them was unable to convince the other. But they had highest respect for each other.  Once when Einstein after sending a letter questioning the proposals of Bohr went to meet him in person, Bohr looking away was murmuring ‘Einstein, Einstein’ in frustration.  Einstein silently retreated to the other room, understanding the situation.  This shows how much he respected Bohr and his views though they were totally different.

            On the whole it was one of the best books I have ever read. 

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