Einstein: His Life & Universe Review

Walter Isaacson is a wizard of sorts. Albert Einstein died when Isaacson was not even 3 years old, but the account that he was able to put together about Einstein’s life is so vivid and specific that I wouldn’t have been surprised if Isaacson was with him throughout his life.

There are a lot of books on Einstein and I can’t make any statements about the other ones, but I’m comfortable saying it would take an incredible version to beat Isaacson’s account.

It was a long book (704 pages in the paperback version), but I’d absolutely say it was worth the read (or the listen, in my case).

There are lots of pros and cons for biographies, but I find two large values from the biographies that I have gone through. The first is that they can be incredibly interesting. I find enjoyment in information about people and history. So the fact that Einstein was an avid violinist, loved to sail, and was asked to be the president of Israel in 1952 are bits of info that I find fascinating. The second value of biographies is that learning about how others lived their lives, solved challenges and were perceived by others can be quite applicable to our everyday lives.

This book included a lot of both of those, but it’s the second that got me so hooked, and honestly made me sad when I finished it.

I’ll talk about some of the biggest thoughts I had on the book, but if you’re interested I’d love to talk about anything further.

Independent thinking

This is by far my biggest takeaway from the book. Einstein was able to kill it in his life and with his science because he threw away all of society’s norms. Part of that was by doing what he wanted and not worrying what others thought, but it was a lot more than that. There are norms and standards within the science and physics communities, and the reason Einstein was able to come up with his special theory of relativity, which lead to his general theory (and partially the atom bomb) was because he was able to take an idea that was established as a fact by Isaac Newton and dismiss it. I won’t dive into the technicalities, partially because I don’t think it’s super relevant and primarily because I still don’t really understand most of the physics. The takeaway, though, is that the greatest scientific thinkers of the 20th century weren’t able to come to the same conclusions as Einstein because they couldn’t get past the norms of a perceived foundation of science.

This quote at the end of the book (slightly paraphrased), that Isaacson calls Einstein’s creed is everything wrapped up into a statement: “Freedom is the life and blood of creativity. The development of science and the creativity of spirit require a freedom that is independent of thought from authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing this freedom should be the primary role of government and education.”

Einstein had this freedom and he was able to look at everything in his life from a purely free standpoint which contributed greatly to his work.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, not just scientists, are amazing at this. It’s a thought that has been on my mind a lot recently. We are conditioned in society to behave a certain way, follow a certain set of rules, believe in certain things, but the revolutionaries are the ones that don’t buy into this dogma. In most cases I’ve seen, maybe all, it seems like the revolutionaries never bought into the norms and that’s how they were able to think so independently. I objectively see myself having fallen into some of these norms, though, so pushing myself to think differently is a difficult but rewarding exercise.

Reading about Einstein has motivated me a lot more to really be myself and follow my interests, intellectual curiosities, etc.

Thoughts on a greater being

There is a fair amount that Einstein has said about religion, God, a higher being and so on. I don’t want to get too into my personal beliefs here, but there were some things Einstein has said that I thought were pretty noteworthy.

Here is someone who understands the physical words and the way that things work better than almost anyone. With all of that knowledge, Einstein has publicly said that there must be a higher power. He came to realize that there was no better way that the physical world could have been established than the way that it was. He even said that during his thought experiments, he would think “If I were God, would I have created the world in such a way?”

Regardless of religious affiliation or belief, I find that to be fascinating. He understands the world at such a deep level and he was confident that there’s a higher power that has created this world we live in.

Surround yourself by people you can share ideas with

The last super noteworthy thing I want to mention is that Einstein was constantly writing letters and communicating with the leaders in the scientific community. Up front, that makes sense. That being said, it took him effort to write letters, keep up with people, share his findings, etc. I find that his collaboration with other brilliant people both aided in his efforts as well as inspired and aided in others work and efforts on improving the world.

It makes me want to surround myself by more people that can challenge the way that I think and that I can challenge back.

Final thoughts

The caveat I will say is that, while this is an incredibly in-depth account of Einstein, there were a lot of things in here that I was personally not so interested in. Isaacson dove into the physics a bit which went over my head since I didn’t want to make the effort to understand it (hopefully one day I will). He also talked about moments that were important and interesting in Einstein’s life that I couldn’t relate to as well. The nature of a biography I think. All the stories and events that he mentioned were almost certainly worth including, but that’s a caveat to consider.

Overall, would say it’s a book everyone should read relatively soon. Others I’d prioritize first, though.

Cheers 🙂

If you ever want to discuss this more or get in touch, don’t hesitate to reach out. My email is noadelstein@gmail.com

Originally published at noah-life.com on July 14, 2017.

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