Fantastically researched based on the personal letters of Einstein, Isaacson’s account of Einstein is comprehensive, meticulous in detail, and reveals the independent thinking and perspectives of the man that drove his greatness.
The book is not a fast read nor does it delve into Einstein’s humanity. Mostly, the book is a chronicle of his life from childhood through old age—where he was educated, who he met, his struggles to find work, what he found interesting and, importantly, the role that his questioning of conventional wisdom had on shaping the man and his work.
What I found most interesting about this read was not the book at all but the questions it raised. For those who may not know (I didn’t), Einstein had a baby girl early in his career with a woman he later married and divorced. Although he was in love with the mother at the time and corresponded with her frequently while she was residing in a different city, Einstein never took the initiative to be present for the birth. Nor did he attempt to meet the child. Ever. Einstein (and the mother) spent the rest of their lives covering up the existence of the child, destroying documentation and essentially banishing her from their world. It is believed that the child, Lieserl, who was left to be cared by others, died by age 2.
I’m not going to refute Einstein’s place in our world and history as a scientific icon, or his role in shaping 20th century thought. Heck, most of us still quote him (or a statement often attributed to him) daily: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
But the book—and the man—begs the question: What makes for greatness? There’s no question that Einstein is considered one of the greatest men of our time, admired by all. But how do we evaluate greatness—what criteria do we use? And what role do we (personally) play in shaping how we are remembered long after we die?
These are the questions that stayed with me long after reading Einstein: His Life and Universe.