ENG 111

Fall 2002


READING GUIDE:  Einstein:  A Life in Science, chapters 4-6


Vocabulary . . .


Affront (p. 63)

Eminent (p. 63)

Un-/conventional (p. 64)

Il-/legitimate (p. 65)

Suppression (p. 65)

Privation (p. 68)

Un-/nerving (p. 70)

Trepidation (p. 71)

Herald (p. 72)

Fraught (p. 75)

Circular (p. 76)

Equanimity (p. 79


Notes . . .


In my first reading guide for Einstein:  A Life in Science, I mentioned that the chapters 1 through 3 alternate between narration and exposition.  We could say that the narrative chapters address the Einstein:  A Life part of the title; the expository ones deal with Einstein:  In Science.


This pattern continues in our reading for this time, which is chapters 4-6.  And, as before, we will focus our attention on the odd-numbered, narrative chapter.  My remarks below will indicate that focus.  We should not, however, completely disregard the even-numbered, expository chapters, because there are at least a couple of things we can glean from them.  One is the psychological aspect of Einstein’s creativity.  How did Einstein understand the physics problems of his day, how did he recast them, how did he go about solving them?


Another is the conscious decisions our authors have made to tell Einstein’s story.  As we’ll see, splitting up Einstein’s life and work does not make for a seamless piece of writing.  Is the inelegance in organization necessary if we are going to understand Einstein?  Would some other framework have yielded a more straightforward, easier-to-understand book?  This is for us to decide.


Chapter 4:  Early Works


p. 48        The first two paragraphs in the section “First Steps” are pretty interesting to me.  The writers say that “[t]he whole basis of [Einstein’s early] papers is wrong.”  Hmm.  There’s a lot we can say—and probably should say, in our class discussion—about the risk-taking that all creative people must engage in.  Sometimes the risks don’t pay off, but, as the old saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  More hmm.  What does school teach us about taking risks?


There are more implications for school in the second paragraph.  It seems to me that we are usually asked in schoolwork to analyze; that is, to break things down into their constituent parts.  Far less often we are asked to synthesize, to put things together.


Chapter 5:  Albert Einstein—Patent Officer


p. 61        More arrogance and self-assurance.  I’ll remind you of my comments in the first reading guide.  Are White and Gribbin right about this?


p. 62-3    Einstein becomes a Swiss—and is turned down for military service!


p. 69        The role of the Olympia Academy, and especially Michelangelo Besso, to Einstein’s development.


p. 70        “Many commentators have remarked that they found Einstein’s ability to reach an almost instantaneous and invariably correct decision about the usefulness of an idea unnerving.”  The next sentence in the text explains why Einstein might have been able to do this.  If the writers are correct, Einstein is exhibiting a psychological construct called “tolerance of ambiguity.”  We can talk about this in class, too.


p. 71        The block of language that begins at the top of the page has three things that catch my eye.  One is Einstein’s angst at the death of his father.  This is something we’ll see again with Gandhi.  A second is that Einstein’s marriage to Mileva did not mend the rift between her and Einstein’s mother.  Third, when she married, Mileva gave up her career to be a housewife—and how that suited Einstein.


p. 72        The block of language that begins at the bottom of the page discusses the circumstances of the most productive period of Einstein’s life.  Note at the top of p. 83 how Einstein’s productivity was of the highest quality in spite of several significant obstacles.  Is this consistent with what Gardner would lead us to believe?


p. 76        Collaboration with Minkowski.


p. 78        Note the circumstances under which Einstein obtains a position at the University of Zurich!


p. 79        The writers cue us for a bit of backtracking in the next chapter.


Chapter 6:  Annus Mirabilis


p. 84        At the bottom of the page, “But in fact this was the second of the three great papers. . . .   The first had been written in March, 1905.”  White and Gribbin then go on to tell us about that first paper.  So:  why don’t they just describe the papers in the order they were written?


p. 88        Note how it’s the authors contention that Einstein’s statistical mechanics approach unified all of his work in this period.


p. 92-3    The paragraph beginning “But one of the most breathtaking aspects of the way Einstein worked in his early years” till the end of the section.


p. 93        This is the E=mc2 information for which Einstein is most famous—and most understood.  Buckle down a bit harder with this to see if you can follow how and why energy is matter, matter is energy.