Book Reviews


 

My Einstein

Edited by John Brockman

Review by Richard Sheppard

 

For those who - like this reviewer - have a rudimentary understanding of physics and the immortal plateau on which Albert Einstein resides, this excellent collection of essays contains additional understanding of the forces that rule the Universe. Editor Brockman asked twenty-four cutting-edge physicists and cosmologists to supply their thoughts, influences, and in some cases experiences with, Einstein. The result for the curious is an enlightening look not just at what Einstein did, but how his theories continuously influence the world of the exceedingly small - quantum mechanics - and the stupendously large, the Universe.

Each of the contributing essayists is an eminent and often eminently readable front-line scientist inhabiting today's loftiest scientific perches. And deservedly so. Most have written entire books on Einstein or his theories, some of which are likely beyond the comprehension of most readers. But their offerings in this collection are mainly for the layman and most contain useful explanations and analogies of why Einstein's two titanic theories, of Special and General Relativity, shook the very fabric of the Universe.

Additionally, those contributors who are presently trying to unify Gravity with Quantum mechanics, into a so-called Theory of Everything, marvel that it might take "another Einstein," to solve physics' greatest problem. The present trendy line of study is "string theory," around now for twenty-plus years without confirmation. One of the best essays is by Edward "Rocky" Kolb of Fermi Lab, who explains in concise and comprehensive fashion Einstein's one major "non-realization" - Einstein, despite his General Relativity equations pointing in that direction, did not surmise the expansion of the Universe. Too, the combined discussions from many contributors describing what Einstein himself called his "biggest blunder" - his so-called cosmological constant" which hen used as a fudge in his attempt to define gravity across the Universe, are well worth reading. Because the discovery in 1998 that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, through some unseen "dark energy," has caused many of today's cutting edge physicists to dust-off Einstein's intuition, perhaps in service of a grand unifying theory. If and when a final, grand theory of everything emerges, it will only be on the pioneering work of Albert Einstein, and the countless acolytes he influenced.