CB Book #5 Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

“Life is like a bicycle. In order to keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” Albert Einstein wrote this in a letter to his younger son, Eduard. Einstein was known for these sorts of witty comments. He also had a talent for finding simplicity in a complex universe. When his son asked why he was famous, he answered, “When a beetle walks along a branch, he doesn’t notice when it curves. I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle did not.” Einstein’s faith that the answer to the universe’s complex problems were simple ones is what drove Einstein throughout his life. He referred to this faith in physics as religious in nature. Physics was his passion and his sanctuary from the painfully personal. However, Albert Einstein was a whole human. He had love and pain, flaws, and also strengths. Humans are complex and there usually isn’t a simple explanation. Walter Isaacson seems to understand this. Einstein: His Life and Universe isn’t about Einstein the genius or Einstein the celebrity; it’s about Einstein the person.

I should mention that on the surface, this book shouldn’t have interested me. I have never taken a physics class—not even in high school. Although, as a weather forecaster, I deal with it a little bit. That’s not to say that physics is uninteresting to me—I just don’t understand it. Before the Air Force put me in a crash course on meteorology, I didn’t think science and I would ever have a working relationship. Also, as much as I want to, I rarely finish a non-fiction book. I like the idea of non-fiction as I love learning new things, but I have a serious commitment issue with them. Halfway through, my eyes will wander over to the nearest fiction novel and that will be the end of it. Neither of these facts stopped me from devouring Isaacson’s 550 page book.

Albert Einstein was born and raised in Germany. Never a fan of Germany’s nationalistic and authoritarian culture of the time, he renounced his citizenship as soon as he could. His post high school education was spent at Zurich Polytechnic Institute in Switzerland. There’s a famous rumor that Einstein failed math. This rumor was established during Einstein’s life and even though he refuted it, this rumor persists even today. While Einstein was actually very good at math, he didn’t always appreciate it or feel it was important compared to his studies of physics. Therefore, he didn’t always think it was necessary to attend class. This fact didn’t help him to make friends with his professors. It also didn’t help that Einstein was strongly antiauthoritarian, especially in his younger years. So when none of his professors would recommend him during his job search, Einstein became the only person who graduated in his class who could not find a job teaching. He couldn’t even get a full time job teaching at a high school. This is how history churned out another of her great ironies. The man who managed to rock the world of physics and change the way we look at the universe did so while working at a patent office. The year Einstein wrote The Special Relativity Theory is known as his miracle year. This is the year that gave us one of the world’s most easily recognizable equations, E=MC2 (the implications of which gave rise to the idea of the atom bomb).

Einstein’s interesting life didn’t end the year he wrote his relativity theory. He continued to influence the physics world with his General Relativity Theory and then by constantly testing the new-fangled idea of quantum mechanics. He influenced the world in some political ways too. After WWI, he fought for passivism. After WWII made him a refugee for being Jewish, he fought for a supranational entity to govern so that nationalism could be suppressed when necessary. He was even offered the presidency of Israel.

Isaacson goes through all of this. He also delves into Einstein personal life quite a bit. The biography is loosely written in chronological order, making it story-like, but the chapters are dedicated to an aspect of his life instead of strictly covering an amount of years. Einstein’s physics is heavily peppered throughout the book. I was actually kind of glad that I read this book without knowing any physics. I felt like I was making the discoveries right along with Einstein. Isaacson knew his science and he had a lot of help from the professionals, so it was written well enough that I was able to understand all of it. Since, it’s also been a long time since I’ve had a class on post 19th century world history, this biography served as a lesson in physics and history for me.

Altogether, Walter Isaacson is a genuinely good writer. This biography was never boring. While it was long, it never felt long. It was obvious that Isaacson likes Einstein a lot, but he tried to be objective and didn’t gloss over his faults in character. Reading the biography was a bit like taking a long walk with someone as they told their life story. For the entire time I was reading it, I couldn’t get through a conversation with anyone without bringing up Einstein. (Just ask my annoyed friends.) Getting to the end of the book was like saying goodbye. It was a nice walk and I was a little sad to see it end. I’ll never look at the universe the same.

CB Book #4 Path of Daggers

Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

Note: It’s hard to talk about a book in the middle of a series without some spoilers. I tried hard to not get into details, but I want to put up my sign anyway just in case. So… SPOILERS

Of all the Wheel of Time books, Path of Daggers was definitely the quickest read. Part of the reason was it was the shortest—but only part. Another reason was the way the book was set up. The previous books were set up so a huge chunk of the novel would be centered on one character and then another huge chunk would be about another character. The fact that the PoD goes from character to character every few chapter made the book seem faster paced. It also felt more logically set up and less…wandering. It’s hard to read a book when you’re not sure it’s going anywhere.

There were two major themes that I noticed in Robert Jordan’s Path of Daggers. (PoD from here on) The first theme deals with Rand’s childish arrogance. According to car insurance companies, it’s normal for men in their early twenties to feel a small sense of invincibility. I suppose if you’re a male in your early twenties AND the Dragon Reborn, Lord of the Morning, feared savior and destroyer of your world, then you have slightly more reason to feel powerful. But after the hearing for the umpteenth time, “I’m the Dragon Reborn; I do what I want,” I wanted to slap Rand. Thank goodness for Cadsuane coming along and treating Rand like the simpering child he is. Oh and on an related note—can anyone tell me why THREE women are attracted to this brooding, half-crazy, tantrum throwing, paranoid twat!? GRR. Anyway, Rand’s arrogance is fully addressed in PoD. I’m hoping the hard lessons he received after the situation he got himself into blew up in his face sticks with him for good.

The second theme throughout PoD is watching the Aes Sedai start to stumble. From the beginning of the series, Aes Sedai have been presented as the most powerful society of people in the world. The Aes Sedai basically rule the world. They have power literally via the One Power, but they have also held power over the people through seemingly unnatural calm and secrecy. Aes Sedai are feared by everyone from the farmer to the king. Unfortunately, after hundreds of years of holding the world under their thumb, it seems the Aes Sedai have developed tunnel vision. So often, we hear an Aes Sedai assume that if she hadn’t heard of something, it can’t exist. But the world is changing and this near-sightedness is biting them in the ass. The Knitting Circle (a group of over a thousand White Tower drop-outs) are starting to transition from revering to resenting the Aes Sedai. This sentiment echoes one that the reader should have already been developing. It will be interesting to see if the Aes Sedai will be able to pick themselves up and pull themselves together in time for Tarmon Gai’don.

PoD is still an episode in a larger story, but at least the larger story moves forward. The crazy weather sub-plot finally goes somewhere. Rand’s growing arrogance comes to a head. Elayne and Nyneave get out of Ebou Dar. Perrin’s voice is heard again. (Although, unfortunately, Mat’s is not) Morgase’s story moves forward after several books that saw her playing chess with Pedron Niall. And while the Atha’an Miere turn out to be a pain in everyone’s ass, at least they’re doing more than sitting in their boats waiting. This book is a definite departure from the previous two installments which seemed to meander aimlessly. Maybe Robert Jordan had writer’s block with the previous two and lost his place in the greater story before finding it again in time for PoD.  I don’t mind the scope of Wheel of Time or the ridiculous amounts of characters. All that I wanted was to feel like I was reading a story again. So, it turns out that when I’m not reading about a bunch of people standing around waiting, I can really love the world of Wheel of Time.