Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Simple Book Review: Einstein's Masterwork (1915 and the General Theory of Relativity)

Einstein’s Masterwork: 1915 and the General Theory of Relativity (2015) by John Gribbin

I picked up this book simply because it’s about Albert Einstein, the title and persuasive BBC Sky at Night’s reviews, “An absorbing and readable account of Einstein’s life and work.” I once saw this book while I’m looking for Walter Isaacson’s Einstein at Kinukuniya KLCC Bookstore. I finally bought this one because I can’t find Isaacson’s. No regret! John Gribbin, though he is a physicist and astronomer, writes in a simple language (in comparison) and gives easy illustrations to difficult subjects (not all, of course). Gribbin, to me, successfully described what an incomparable physicist Albert Einstein really was to the world of science.

The Special Theory of Relativity,” writes Gribbin, “one of the achievements of 1905, is ‘special’ in the sense that it is restricted and ‘only’ describes the behaviour of things moving in straight lines at constant speed. The name alone tell you that the General Theory is a bigger deal, but because of the widespread (mis)conception that the General Theory is too difficult for ordinary mortals to understand, the events of 1915 have been less feted than the events of 1905… Einstein’s greatest year was indeed 1915, not 1905.” But throughout this book, Gribbin intend to demonstrate this by “putting Einstein’s science in the context of his life and work both before and after 1915, including his breakthrough year of 1905.”

It all started when his father gave the boy Einstein a magnetic compass to relieve his boredom. “He was fascinated by the idea of an invincible force that kept a grip on the compass needle, and baffled that none of his teachers at the school had shown him anything half as interesting. This helped to instil an early conviction that he was much better off working things out for himself than working within the system.” This is typical for geniuses, they are more productive and creative when they are alone. To cut the story short, Einstein wasn’t “the Einstein” when he was young, it was hard for him to further his study and even to find a job! He faced many rejections and was once told by his professor, “a lazy dog.” I think this is fair.

But as he gained great interest in science, especially physics, and by the inspiration of people like Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Niels Bohr – and many more – he soon become self-taught theoretical scientist. In 1905, what was called The Annus Mirabilis (The Year of Miracle) he produced three papers that jump start his career as world-class physicist, simply put as #1 On Brownian motion [which prove the existence of atoms], #2 On light quanta [on which at the same time prove that light is both particle and wave], and #3 the Special Theory of Relativity [I don’t understand all but for sure one of it is that E=mc2, the only famous equation that almost everybody knows].

Then with ups and downs in his life, particularly in his broken marriage and family in general, Einstein tells me that he is a mere mortal, not a god. But in the midst of [also] wars, personal health, and loneliness, Einstein completed his masterwork, namely the General Theory of Relativity. The Theory was tested over and over again that “the General Theory of Relativity can now be regarded as one of the two most securely founded theories in the whole of science, alongside quantum electrodynamics.” From this Theory, to my estimation comes ‘weird’ consequences or positively put, give us the shock of nature’s reality such as time is relative, universe space is curve, universe is expanding, gravity can bend light, the possibility of time travel, supernova, the black hole, wormhole, timewarps, dark matter, black matter, quantum internet, theory of the Big Bang (or vice versa, the existence of Intelligent Designer, God), and many more.

Einstein died without really finishing one of his ambitious dream, namely, “a single mathematical package – a unified theory – that would describe both the material world and the world of electromagnetic radiation.” He died as icon of science, as towering genius, as one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Good book.
[P.s: Some of my conclusions here might be inaccurate or too simplistic, I’m sorry, I’m not a physicist. Correct me if I wrongly inform]

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