Reading Albert Einstein

I’m looking forward to our club’s discussion, at my home on the morning of Thurs., Mar. 2, 2017, of Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, a 1954 collection which describes itself as “an attempt to gather together, so far as is possible, in one volume the most important of Albert Einstein’s general writings.”  This thought-provoking volume is a selection made by his friend Carl Seelig from three others that were previously published by Einstein in 1934, 1950, and 1953.

Nota bene.  I see that Ron mentions a Modern Library edition of Ideas and Opinions.  I’m not familiar with that edition.  As far as I know this is out-of-print and copies are expensive.  I have not consulted it.  The edition I’m reading is the 1954 edition, which is still available in a 1995 reprint published by Broadway Books.

I chose this book to read with our group for several reasons.

First, it’s a book that has been in my library for several decades, so my reading it is long overdue!

Second, I chanced to learn a few months ago that Einstein is, and has long been, as best I could determine, the thinker whose biography is most frequently consulted in the English-language Wikipedia — a fact, or factoid, that I find particularly and peculiarly cheering.

Third, someone recently posted Einstein’s “Aphorisms for Leo Baeck” on a listserv to which I subscribe, and upon reading them I had the impression of encountering a wit so mordant that I wondered whether Einstein had really written them, mordancy not being a quality I had previously associated with the man.  (It was in thinking about this piece that I was reminded that I owned a copy of Ideas and Opinions.)

Fourth, since most of the pieces in the book were written in the period immediately following the one we contemplated in discussing Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, I thought Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions would be a choice that would be sequentially appropriate, as it were.

Fifth, Einstein’s preoccupation in these pages with the problem of nationalism makes them seem worthy of study today.

I’m also reading, for background, Walter Isaacson’s much celebrated 2007 biography of Einstein, Einstein: His Life and Universe, but I have no pretensions to knowledge or competency, much less expertise, concerning any aspect of his life or thought.  I only learned recently, for example, that Princeton University Press is presently engaged in the great scholarly project of publishing all of Einstein’s papers under the collective title The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, the first volume of which was published in 1987 and about fifteen volumes of which have been published to date, both in a German version and an English translation.


About jensenmk

My enthusiasm for French is undimmed after 27 years of teaching the language and its literature at Pacific Lutheran University (1989-2016)! Anyone curious about my other interests can browse my library at the LibraryThing link below.
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3 Responses to Reading Albert Einstein

  1. Peter Farnum says:

    Although Einstein’s work on the General Theory of Relativity came long before dark energy and dark matter were “discovered” he understood the need for a force to counteract gravity. He incorporated this force using a cosmological constant.

    Here is a 6 minute video explaining more about dark energy and dark matter.


    • Mark Jensen says:

      Thanks, Peter… listening and watching this is very much like reading the pre-Socratics!

    • David Gilmour says:

      Continuing to read on matters dark and light, in Lapham’s Quarterly, April 2017, on the theme “Discovery,” I came upon a fine essay by the late Vera Rubin, who wrote about women’s contributions in astronomy. For obvious patriarchic biases many women astronomers were forbidden access to the large telescopes in America, even though they made major discoveries. Rubin states that overlooking women astronomers’ discoveries was a great setback for decades. Rubin died in 2016 and was long thought likely to receive a Nobel Prize. The Quarterly note says:

      “In the late 1970s Rubin observed that the edges of spiral galaxies do not spin slower than the centers, which indicated unseen matter. ‘Great astronomers told us it didn’t mean anything,’ Rubin later recalled, but her findings represented the first direct evidence of dark matter. ‘Still more mysteries of the universe remain hidden. Their discovery awaits adventurous scientists of the future,’ she wrote in 1996. ‘I like it this way.'”

      Lapham in his introductory essay put it this way:

      “Rubin had been asked if she was troubled by the near-infinite expanse of human ignorance. The question was not gratuitous. Rubin’s eminence as an astronomer rested on her finding in the universe five, maybe ten times the mass of energy dreamed of in the cosmologies of Albert Einstein and max Planck. Not only was the universe more infinite than previously imagined, but the newly discovered bulk of it was composed of dark matter destined to remain unknowable because not formed of the same atomic fairy dust as all things animal, mineral, and vegetable, celestial and terrestrial, to which mankind gives the names of nature ceaselessly creating itself. … The limitless expanse of human ignorance Rubin sees as the fortunate provocation that rouses out the love of learning, kindles the signal fires of the imagination. We have no other light with which to see and maybe to recognize ourselves as human.”

      It has been only in recent decades that women have been allowed to apply for telescope time. In 1986 she wrote, “Now about one-third of the telescope time of the national facilities, which include Kitt Peak Observatory outside Tucson Arizona and Cerro Tololo in Chile, is assigned to women.” It is about time women’s contributions, as in the recent film “Hidden Figures,” become better recorded, reported on, and memorialized in all kinds of science and the arts.


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