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Einsteins Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius

by Dr. Hans C. Ohanian

KeyWords: einstein

Pages: 256
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Year: 2008
ISBN: 0393062937
ISBN: 978-0393062939

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Description

Fresh insights into aspects of Einstein we don't usually consider: his mistakes and the role they played in the discovery of his theories.

Although Einstein was the greatest genius of the 20th century, many of his ground-breaking discoveries were blighted by mistakes, ranging from serious misconceptions in physics to blatant errors in mathematics. For instance, Einstein's first theoretical proof of the famous formula E = mc? was incomplete and only approximately valid; he struggled with this problem for many years, but he never found a complete proof (better mathematicians did). In this provocative forensic biography, Hans Ohanian dissects this and other mistakes and places them in the context of Einstein's turbulent life and times. Einstein was often navigating in a fog of irrational and mystical inspirations, but his profound intuition about physics permitted him to reach his goal despite?and sometimes because of-the mistakes he made along the way. Einstein's uncanny ability to use his mistakes subconsciously as stepping-stones toward his revolutionary theories was one hallmark of his genius. 25 illustrations.

A close examination of Einstein's work, emphasizing the errors and wrong turns that even colleagues overlooked.Ohanian, a former editor of the American Journal of Physics, proceeds through the years, rarely missing a paper, speech, interview or controversy. The author covers many fields, because Einstein made not one but several breakthrough discoveries; his Nobel, in fact, was for the photoelectric effect, not relativity. Einstein admitted that mathematics was not his strong suit, but beyond the torrent of errors in that area, Ohanian also finds mistakes in physical assumptions that range from oversimplification to outright nuttiness. Max Planck, working as a journal editor, read the unknown Einstein's revolutionary 1905 paper on special relativity and found a major error in the discussion of relativistic mass. Recognizing the paper's importance, Planck approved it and later worked out a correct recalculation for which he has never received credit. Because of Einstein's fame, everyone believes he discovered the equation linking mass to energy. In fact, other physicists knew of it for years, and his 1905 proof was incomplete; once Max Von Laue produced a complete proof in 1911, Einstein adopted it. Ohanian emphasizes two absolute laws of research. One: If a scientist makes a brilliant discovery, everyone forgives mistakes he made along the way. Two: If he becomes a scientific superstar, he gets credit for everything in his field. Thus Einstein gets credit for everything connected with relativity, including earlier discoveries and those of colleagues who improved his work. Dennis Overbye's Einstein in Love (2000) gives the best popular account of his science, while Walter Isaacson's bestselling Einstein (2007) is the best on his life. Ohanion's book delves more deeply into physics and into Einstein's thought processes, so readers will have to pay close attention.A sophisticated overview of modern physics, including more of Einstein's missteps than readers usually encounter.

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