Friday, February 3, 2012

Albert Einstein Walter Isaacson

Because I enjoyed Walter Isaacson's book about Steve Jobs I decided to read his other works. He has 2 more other biographies; Ben Franklin and Einstein, and I thought the latter might be more interesting. But it turned out to be a rather slow read for me, cos there were so many descriptions and examples of his theories and how his mind worked in the book. Physic belongs to the realm of the geeky. And so for a non-geek like me, some effort is required to plough through many sections of the book. I almost wanted to stop reading but I am glad that I finished it cos it provided many insights to the life the one of the greats of modern times. 

Reading about Einstein is humbling. A great mind he was, yet he remained quite simple and humble to the end. At his wishes, his body was cremated (in the presence of his family members and close friends, numbering 12). It had already been scattered into the Delaware River by the time the official announcement was made. He could have had a glittering funeral. But he did not want a final resting place that will be turned into a subject of morbid veneration.

Some of his quotes and thoughts that I like. In them one finds many snippets of wisdom.

"The development of science and of creative activities of the spirit requires a freedom that consists in the independence of thought from the restrictions of authoritarian and social prejudice. Nurturing that should the be the fundamental role of government."

"The value of college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think." (I think we've lost that plot here)

"During the war it (science) gave people the means to poison and mutilate one another, in peacetime it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of being a liberating force, it has enslaved men to machines by making them work long wearisome hours mostly without joy in their labor."

"Humans have within them a lust for hatred and destruction. Leaders can manipulate it to stir up militaristic passions."

"Use for yourself little, but give to others much."

"The touchstone of his science was his nonconformist belief. When he became an American citizen, the country's tolerance of free thought, free speech and nonconformist beliefs became the touchstone of his citizenship."

"After the second world war, he said that while the ownership of an atomic bomb gave America a sense of security, it was an imaginary one, and in that respect it was a great danger."

"And Math (which wasn't something he paid close attention to) - Math could be a tool for discovering - and not merely describing - nature's laws. Math was nature's play book.

Non-conformist - that's Einstein. And that was what made him a great physicist. His quote, “In teaching history there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment.” Here, we teach too little of that in our curriculum. Our History is dissected and many parts removed for political ends. Names of roads are changed, contributions of figures past relegated to obscurity, old schools torn down and the list goes on. There seems to be a systematic effort to purge our history so that one race stands out. We can do a parallel comparison to Hitler's act of purging the German nation of the Jews for Aryan supremacy. Yet it was ironic that a Jew, (and a German) would be responsible for the theory that made the atomic bomb a reality. And the fact that, many of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were Jews too.  Plus, that same country where many of the German Jews sought refuge would be a major partner in the coalition that brought Germany to her knees.

In his last days, even as he lay in his hospital bed, knowing that his end was imminent, he continued to work furiously with his equations. Reminds me of another Isaacson's book. Steve Jobs did the same too. These were remarkable men, and they continued doing what they loved to the end. I'd recommend it a read.

My first book for 2012. 


PreciousPearl said...

Nice one! other little known facts about Einstein include that aged 16, he failed nearly all his exams except for maths and physics, he fought all his life against poor teaching (preferring to make students think for themselves rather than memorise answers which they don't really understand) and he was a well known supporter of the anti-racism movement in the USA after he became an American citizen.

Anonymous said...

superb post! I hate commenting and i dont normally do it but because i enjoyed this, what the heck! Thanks alot!:)