Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I

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Release Date: 
May 20, 2019
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"Einstein's War is a parallel biography of the great thinker and Arthur Stanley Eddington who used Einstein's work to heal the world scientific community."

The public remembers Albert Einstein as the "the most famous thinker in the world," a gentle shabby millennium superstar who escaped Nazi Germany during World War II. He encouraged the development of the nuclear bomb despite bring a pacifist.

In 1919, Einstein had changed thinking with his ideas on relativity that demonstrated "that the most fundamental tools we use to make sense of reality were warped." He had finally triumphed over rigid Prussian culture in more than physics by creating pathways forward in perception and in thought.

Matthew Stanley in Einstein's War argues that the work of Arthur Stanley Eddington tried to "convince the world of the truth of relativity" "to show how science could triumph over nationalism and hatred." Eddington even "led a globe-spinning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse" to prove Einstein correct "that light has weight."

The First World War, 1914–1918, "the industrialized murder that wracked Europe, "shattered" "the international institutions of science." Eddington promoted Einstein's ideas as "the key to restoring exactly those networks."

Wartime passions against Germans became so toxic by 1919 that, even in regarding the pacifist Einstein, "scientists seeking to confirm his ideas were arrested as spies." "His scientific revolution depended on battles both intellectual and political, fought from Berlin to London to the very edge of the universe."

Stanley, tells the story of this "messy adventure that combined friendship, hatred, and politics." The greater story concerns recovering science as an international endeavor above a war and politics.

Albert Einstein, born into a Jewish family in "German secular culture," early on rebelled against "highly disciplined and militaristic" education and anyone telling him what to do. His "gadget-loving father" worked to bring new age electric light to southern Germany. To avoid military service, Albert "formally gave up his German citizenship" and moved to Switzerland to become a Bohemian.

Arthur Stanley Eddington, a Quaker, received a scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge that changed his life, moving him from "industrial, lower class Manchester . . . to the very heart of refined, Anglican, imperial England." He "displayed immense powers of concentration and dedication studying physics and mathematics" under such professors as Arthur Schuster, "a German immigrant doing cutting edge laboratory experiments."

As an "obscure patent clerk" in 1905, Einstein published six papers, "all of which changed the world" but "had no tests he could perform, no predictions that could be reliably checked" to confirm his ideas. He did unintentionally gain the attention of the renowned Max Planck (who published Einstein's work), later described as his "second great discovery."

Eddington, like Einstein a pacifist and all but a teetotaler, found important connections and rose to the top ranks in British astronomy. By 1912, he sought total eclipses to prove Einstein’s theories by what often happens "over ocean or inaccessible areas" and observed only by "elaborate and expensive expeditions."

Attempts to prove Einstein's theories with precision measurement of an eclipse failed from various misadventures. Eddington sought to prove the German physicist's work to elevate science for the sake of pacifism. It created the "relativity revolution of 1919" and made the quirky Einstein with his annoying laugh, wild hair, and ragged clothes an international sensation.

The World War caught Einstein and Eddington, respectively, between the politics of the war and over the peace efforts. Scientific journals took sides. Students disappeared into the armies and "colleagues died in the trenches."

Prejudice against Germany extended to condemning or minimizing its scientific achievements." Einstein became sick and almost paralyzed from hunger. "While Einstein never held a rifle or fired a shot the war shaped his life and work for years."

Einstein's War is a parallel biography of the great thinker and Arthur Stanley Eddington who used Einstein's work to heal the world scientific community. It is concise despite its size and inclusion of background of the war. The prose is fast moving and engaging.