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Although Einstein was the greatest genius of the twentieth 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 = mc2 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 C. 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.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780393062939
ISBN-10: 0393062937
Format: Hardback
(244mm x 165mm x 33mm)
Pages: 416
Imprint: WW Norton & Co
Publisher: WW Norton & Co
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2008
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » 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. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Hans C. Ohanian

Hans C. Ohanian received his B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University, where he worked with John A. Wheeler. He has taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College, and the University of Vermont. He is the author of several textbooks spanning all undergraduate levels: Physics, Principles of Physics, Relativity: A Modern Introduction, Modern Physics, Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Classical Electrodynamics, and, with Remo Ruffini, Gravitation and Spacetime. He is also the author of dozens of articles dealing with gravitation, relativity, and quantum theory, including many articles on fundamental physics published in the American Journal of Physics, where he served as associate editor for some years. He lives in Vermont.

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