Tuesday, 9 June 1998

Abraham Pais: 'Subtle is the Lord...' (1982)

Edition: Oxford University Press, 1982
Review number: 63

Subtle is the Lord... (the Einstein quote finishes "...but he is not malicious") is an excellent biography of Albert Einstein written by an eminent physicist. A fair knowledge of physics is necessary to read this, but reading a biography of Einstein which doesn't convey the work that he did is much less interesting to those who have such a knowledge.

Pais is not uncritical of Einstein. A major theme of his book is to answer the question of why, after the major achievements of special and general relativity and his quantum mechanics papers, Einstein produced so little work of permanent value in the second half of his working life. In fact, Pais suggests that the very aspects of Einstein's character which made the earlier breakthroughs possible meant that his work became more divorced from the mainstream of twentieth century theoretical physics as time went on.

Subtle is the Lord is rather less interested in the non-physics related activities of Albert Einstein, though considerable space is given to his pacifism and Zionism. There are other biographies which concentrate on these matters, and are much more interested in Einstein's private life. Pais' work is where to come for a definitive description of the way in which Einstein's work and life fitted together.

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