Although Einstein was the greatest genius of the twentieth century, many of his ground-breaking discoveries were blighted by mistakes, ranging from serious misconceptions in physics to blatant errors in mathematics. For instance, Einstein's first theoretical proof of the famous formula E = mc2 was incomplete and only approximately valid; he struggled with this problem for many years, but he never found a complete proof (better mathematicians did). In this provocative forensic biography, Hans C. Ohanian dissects this and other mistakes and places them in the context of Einstein's turbulent life and times. Einstein was often navigating in a fog of irrational and mystical inspirations, but his profound intuition about physics permitted him to reach his goal despite―and sometimes because of―the mistakes he made along the way. Einstein's uncanny ability to use his mistakes subconsciously as stepping stones toward his revolutionary theories was one hallmark of his genius.
From Bookmarks Magazine
In Einstein's Mistakes, Hans C. Ohanian draws on his own background in physics to gleefully point out some of Einstein's more glaring errors. That part of the book is solid, and readers will find a capable guide in Ohanian. What might be less engaging is the author's fast-and-loose writing style (Van Gogh became a great artist "when he went bonkers") and a tendency to botch some of the historical facts (related to Einstein's research, his Nobel Prize, and so forth) that underpin much of the narrative. Still, the book's ambitious scope—when calling out Einstein, writers weak of heart need not apply—and Ohanian's self-assured reportage make this a worthwhile read. Bring your thinking cap.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
*Starred Review* In this “forensic biography,” Ohanian shows astonished readers that the most brilliant scientist of the twentieth century was frequently found making—in his own words—“a sacrifice on the altar of stupidity.” The great physicist’s admirers may already know that Einstein foolishly defied the quantum revolution he helped launch. The well-informed may even know something of Einstein’s disastrous missteps in his personal life. But it will come as a revelation to most readers that scientists have identified serious flaws in four of the five papers that established Einstein’s reputation during his annus mirabilis of 1905. Ohanian drops an even bigger bombshell in documenting Einstein’s repeated failure to provide a valid proof for his most famous equation: E = mc2. More surprising than the number and severity of Einstein’s errors, however, is the mystifying way the Berne genius reached correct—even revolutionary—conclusions despite these mistakes. In strange ways, some of Einstein’s blunders (such as the synchronization error in his “Special Relativity” paper) actually helped him achieve theoretical breakthroughs. Drawing on Arthur Koestler’s provocative analysis of Kepler, Ohanian characterizes Einstein as a similarly charmed sleepwalker whose profound intuition guided him to epoch-making conclusions along tortured pathways. A compelling portrait of a titan who stumbled his way into immortality. --Bryce Christensen
About the Author
Hans Ohanian studied physics at Berkeley and at Princeton, where he worked on relativity with John A. Wheeler. He has taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College, the University of Rome, and the University of Vermont. He is the author of several physics textbooks and dozens of articles dealing with relativity, gravitation, and quantum theory, including many articles on fundamental physics published in the American Journal of Physics, where he served as associate editor for several years. Of late, he has become interested in the ecological and economic aspects of renewable energy systems in Vermont, where he lives. His favorite renewable system is his sailboat "ARCHIMEDES," on which he cruises on Lake Champlain.