Einstein Defiant by Edmund Blair Bolles

One might think a new book about Einstein would be nothing more than an exercise in redundancy, but Einstein Defiant (Joseph Henry Press) is defiant in more ways than one.

Einstein DefiantFirst, this book explores the heated debate between two of the greatest physicists of all time: Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr. Their differences were evident early on in their careers. Where Einstein was obsessed with the idea that scientific concepts illuminated reality, Bohr was interested in describing the outcome of scientific experiments. Where Bohr was looking for equations that worked, Einstein was always wondering why they worked.

Einstein Defiant depicts the great respect and admiration Einstein and Bohr held for each other, and why their debate over quantum theory is one of the great battles in physics. Bohr had “solved” the only problem Einstein avoided for its difficulty (without going too far into it, it had to do with spectral lines). They were both revered for their very abstract problem-solving intuition (“antennae that smelled out a solution,” as Bolles puts it).

Second, this book frames Einstein’s career in historical facets that I haven’t seen explored before: his personal bouts with nationalism, politics, family, love affairs, etc… Heady stuff for a book about Einstein.

Third, Edmund Blair Bolles writes with the subtle sensibilities of a novelist. That is not to say he embellishes every narrative turn with drama and poetry, but that he’s damn good writer, and it’s difficult to stop reading this book when the teakettle whistles or the phone rings. His prose is clear, engaging, and often lyrical where other such books are not.

So, before you pass judgment on whether a new book about Einstein is needed, skim Einstein Defiant, and find a story like you’ve never read before.