It took me a while to figure out what exactly this book was about. Einstein famously said (or is reputed to have said) that his biggest mistake was the inclusion in his general theory of relativity of a ‘cosmological constant’, which he came to regard as spurious. But he also made other mistakes, some arguably greater, such as declaring that God doesn’t play dice when quantum mechanics suggested the contrary. The book’s tagline, ‘the life of a flawed genius’, hints at a biography highlighting Einstein’s less than saintly behaviour in regard to those closest to him, particularly the two wives he cheated on. In fact, Bodanis touches on all of this, with a breeziness that will please anyone not too concerned with scientific detail, psychological insight or historical accuracy.
Born in 1879 in the German city of Ulm, Einstein, we are told, had a ‘Victorian childhood’. He grew up at a time in which the scientific universe consisted of ‘two great realms’, energy and matter, which he would come to unify. Bismarck would