A relatively popular theory


The publishing industry has responded to the Einstein anniversary with gusto. Bill Condie reviews some of the offerings.


In case you hadn’t noticed it’s been 100 years since Albert Einstein submitted the final version of his world-changing theory of general relativity to the Prussian Royal Academy.

In it, he described gravity as a function of the curvature of space and time by matter and energy – a concept with far-reaching consequences.

The theory could describe and explain the expansion of the Universe, the physics of black holes and the bending of light from distant stars in the now familiar phenomenon of gravitational lensing. It remains the basis for much of our understanding of the cosmos.

Unsurprisingly the publishing industry has responded to the anniversary with gusto. We have selected five of the best, which, while we didn’t plan it that way, mostly come from Princeton University Press, as is fitting.

Einstein first visited Princeton in 1921, the year before he received the Nobel Prize. He gave a series of lectures on his work at the university, which he believed had done the best work on his theory. He renewed the relationship with the town of Princeton in 1933 when he took up a post at its Institute of Advanced Study, an affiliation that would last until his death in 1955.

Einstein’s appeal to the public is only partially explained by his theory.

While the IAS has no formal connection to the university the two have enjoyed close collaborative ties over the years, as described in Einstein: A hundred years of relativity. It is the most accessible of our collection, enhanced by wonderful pictures from sources including the Albert Einstein Archives and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The book also examines Einstein’s appeal to the public imagination – which is only partially explained by his groundbreaking theory. Andrew Robinson’s main biographical narrative is enhanced by 12 essays by eminent scientists, scholars and artists that put Einstein’s life and work in perspective.

For a meatier look at Einstein’s work there is The road to relativity, a wonderful book that combines a facsimile of Einstein’s original manuscript, an English translation and a rich annotation that is accessible, just about, to the enthusiastic non-mathematician.

Or you can turn to the great man himself and the re-issue of Relativity, Einstein’s own attempt to introduce his theory to a lay audience. To be honest, we must judge his success in this with some ambivalence. It’s a tough read by any standards, although one is struck by the charm of his language, even if the elegance of his mathematics is beyond our grasp.

An Einstein encyclopedia is an invaluable companion to the serious Einstein researcher. A comprehensive collection of the theories, concepts, friends, collaborators and romantic interests in Einstein’s life.

Finally, The perfect theory takes us beyond Einstein’s life by placing his work in context and explaining the impact it has had over the years, and also its relevance to today’s cutting edge inquirie.

Astrophysicist Pedro G. Ferreira does a wonderful job at bringing the mathematics and science to life.

NON-FICTION
Einstein: A hundred years of relativity by Andrew Robinson Princeton University Press (2015)

The road to relativity by Hanock Gutfreund and JÜrgen Renn Princeton University Press (2015)

Relativity: The special & the general theory 100th anniversary edition by Albert Einstein Princeton University Press (2015)

An Einstein encyclopedia by Alice Calaprice, Daniel Kennfick and Robert Schulmann Princeton University Press (2015)

The perfect theory: A century of geniuses and the battle over general relativity by Pedro G. Ferreira Abacus (2015)

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