ENG 111

Fall 2002


READING GUIDE:  Einstein:  A Life in Science, chapters 1-3


Vocabulary . . .


Transcend (p. 2)

Pedantic (p. 3)

Introvert (p. 5)*

Persevere (p. 7)

Integral (p. 13)

 Incense (p. 32)

Automaton (p. 32)

Anathema (p. 32)

 Renounce (p. 33)

Abhorrence (p. 33)

Arrogant (p. 33)

 Dissuasion (p. 40)


Empathy (p. 45)



* please also learn the opposite of this word, extrovert.


Notes . . .


Writing can be divided into two big categories:  poetry and prose.  Prose (an example of which you are reading right now; writing that is organized into sentences and paragraphs) can itself in turn be divided into two categories:  exposition and narration.


Expository prose is writing that is organized by ideas.  A lot of times writing of this type isn’t very fun.  The textbooks you read in your other classes are, I’m sure, expository.  So is the focal text of our class, Howard Gardner’s Extraordinary Minds.  I wouldn’t be surprised (and my feelings certainly wouldn’t be hurt) if Extraordinary Minds were the first non-textbook piece of expository prose you’ve ever read.


Narrative prose, on the other hand, is more accessible because it’s organized by time.  It tells a story.  The fiction that you’ve read in previous English classes—novels, short stories, plays—is narrative.  Some non-fiction, like biographies and autobiographies, is also strongly narrative, but it often has expository explanations blended in.


This is the case of the book we’re starting for our next class meeting, Einstein:  A Life in Science.  The events of Einstein’s life—when and where he was born, where he went to school, that sort of thing—will be told in a pretty straightforward, linear, narrative way.  The products of Einstein’s imagination, however, are definitely ideas.  They are handled with exposition.


The bad news about the exposition of Einstein’s ideas is that, even thought it’s written for a general audience, it’s plenty hard to understand.


The good news is that, for the purposes of our class, we don’t have to understand it.  In the reading that we do for next time, chapter 2, “Physics before Einstein,” fits into this expository, hard-to-understand category.  I’ve asked you to learn no vocabulary from this chapter, and my freewrite questions will not focus on the information it contains.  By all means read it, but don’t torment yourself if you don’t feel confident about understanding it.


Instead, let me indicate some of the passages that I thought were significant in chapters 1 and 3.


p. 1-2      Notice how, on p. 1, para. 3, the authors suggest that Einstein is famous for the wrong reasons.  They go on to say what the right reasons should be for his fame.


p. 7-8      Einstein’s poor memory as an indication of schizophrenia?


p. 13        “[I]t is probably fair to say that [Einstein] saw himself as being as much a philosopher as a scientist.”  Wow.


p. 14-5    Einstein and religion.  In part:  “The adolescent Einstein was coming to the conclusion that in the future he would need to stand outside the conventional pattern of things and try to discover from without exactly how the world worked.”  Per Gardner’s framework, a conscious decision to focus on objects, not on people?


p. 33        Einstein renounces both his German citizenship and his religion.


p. 36-7    Does Einstein’s ambition as a high school student square with Gardner’s framework?


p. 41        Einstein as arrogant and stubborn, or “ . . .[I]t could also be said that he simply knew very well his own mind and had, at an early age, discovered what was right for him and how best he could learn and understand the way the world worked.”  I think there’s a lot to be said about this.  If we stick with decisions that turn out to be correct, we’re persistent; if we stick with decisions that turn out to be bad, we’re stubborn.  But how do we know before hand if our decisions are good or bad?  The answer hinges on risk-taking and “promisingness.”  Please ask me about these during class time.


These passages and comments are part of my conversation with the text.  Please don’t stop with them.  Have your own conversation, and be prepared to share with the rest of us what you find to be interesting and relevant.