Friday, 3 October 2008

Quantum Lives 1: Max Planck & Albert Einstein

These mini-biographies of some of the key protagonists in Quantum didn't quite make it into the book itself, but we'll post them here over the next few weeks. First up are Max Planck and Albert Einstein:

Max Planck (1858–1947) John L. Heilbron (2000), The Dilemmas of An Upright Man describes Planck’s rise to the pinnacle of German science and examines how he reconciled his sense of duty to his country and to physics once confronted by the realities of the First World War and the Third Reich. Heilbron’s absorbing study reveals how Planck tried to defend the interests of German science and therefore had no option but to negotiate with the Nazis. Planck made his compromises, gaining little but surrendering much.

Albert Einstein (1879–1955) has been the subject of countless books. Denis Brian (1996), Einstein: A Life, Albrecht Fölsing (1997), Albert Einstein: A Biography, and Walter Isaacson (2007), Einstein: His Life and Universe are all fine portraits of a man who was not the secular saint of popular myth. Abraham Pais (1982), ‘Subtle is the Lord …’: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein is a scientific biography that offers a more mathematically detailed presentation of Einstein’s physics. Dennis Overbye (2001), Einstein in Love is an enthralling account of the life and times of the young Einstein that ends in 1920 and the first meeting with Bohr. Thomas Levenson (2003), Einstein in Berlin recounts the eighteen years he spent in the German capital until Hitler’s rise to power in January 1933. Levenson captures a vibrant, decadent metropolis in a time of change and unrest that flourished as a cultural melting-pot which produced an all-too-brief flowering in art, architecture, music, cinema and theatre, but whose brightest star was Einstein. ‘I simply enjoy giving more than receiving in every respect, do not take myself nor the doings of the masses seriously, am not ashamed of my weaknesses and vices, and naturally take things as they come with equanimity and humour. Many people are like this, and I really cannot understand why I have been made into a kind of idol’, Einstein wrote to Max Born in April 1949.

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