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Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness

von John S. Rigden

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For Albert Einstein, 1905 was a remarkable year. It was also a miraculous year for the history and future of science. In six short months, from March through September of that year, Einstein published five papers that would transform our understanding of nature. This unparalleled period is the subject of John Rigden's book, which deftly explains what distinguishes 1905 from all other years in the annals of science, and elevates Einstein above all other scientists of the twentieth century. Rigden chronicles the momentous theories that Einstein put forth beginning in March 1905: his particle theory of light, rejected for decades but now a staple of physics; his overlooked dissertation on molecular dimensions; his theory of Brownian motion; his theory of special relativity; and the work in which his famous equation, E = mc2, first appeared. Through his lucid exposition of these ideas, the context in which they were presented, and the impact they had--and still have--on society, Rigden makes the circumstances of Einstein's greatness thoroughly and captivatingly clear. To help readers understand how these ideas continued to develop, he briefly describes Einstein's post-1905 contributions, including the general theory of relativity. One hundred years after Einstein's prodigious accomplishment, this book invites us to learn about ideas that have influenced our lives in almost inconceivable ways, and to appreciate their author's status as the standard of greatness in twentieth-century science.… (mehr)
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This is a good overview for the interested non-expert, but only of biographical interest to a physicist, who will want more beef. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
Finished [Einstein 1905: The Standard of Greatness] by [[John S. Rigden]]. It is a short but very informative book about Einstein's five papers written in 1905, explaining on each how he came to write them, what they are about and the impact each paper had. Additionally there is an introduction to familiarize the reader with Einstein in 1905 and an excellent epilogue that discusses a few of his later papers and his overall impact on physics and the world. The book is written for the more intelligent layman, no math required! Highly recommended. ( )
  jztemple | Dec 27, 2019 |
This year marks a century since Albert Einstein published five of the most influential papers in the history of science, all submitted between March and September of 1905. That is the impetus for designating 2005 as the World Year of Physics, and corresponding programs of the Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers in this year. My friend John Rigden's short book focuses on the intellectual content of Einstein's 1905 work, including a description of the science in each of the papers in turn. The story is an astounding one. The March paper posited the idea of light as quantized, with energy proportional to the frequency. Often, this is called "the photoelectric effect paper", because that was the aspect that was cited in the resulting Nobel prize. A month later, the April paper provided an excellent estimate of the magnitude of Avogadro's number. In May he "predicted" Brownian Motion, with which Einstein had not been familiar, even though it had been observed at least a decade earlier. Special relativity was the subject of Einstein's June paper, and in September he extended those ideas to unify energy and mass. An Epilogue, which could just as well have been a chapter, describes some remaining highlights of Einstein's contributions: the General Theory of Relativity (1916), The Quantum Theory of Radiation (1917), Bose-Einstein Statistics (1924-25), and the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Hypothesis (1935). I think that most readers of "Hal's Picks" will enjoy this book; it emphasizes the amazing insight of the man, and describes the science in a manner that is accessible without being distorted. ( )
  hcubic | Jan 29, 2013 |
Einstein 1905 is a good book for the layman interested in understanding Einstein's miraculous year of 1905 when he produced five papers, over six months, that profoundly affected the course of science. Taking the papers one at a time, Rigden first sets the context of the issues involved, the questions or conflicts unresolved in physics, then he describes the essence of the paper itself, and outlines responses to it. The papers are:

March: the particle theory of light, which flew completely in the face of conventional wisdom that saw light as a wave.
April: Einstein's PhD dissertation on determination of molecular dimensions in liquids which provided support for the atomic theory of matter.
May: Einstein wanted to develop a theory of Brownian motion that would expose the atomic nature of liquids and that could be tested experimentally; the paper proved the existence of atoms.
June: the special theory of relativity that joined space and time: "The results of Part I are intellectually and emotionally stunning. Absolute space and time, the foundations of Newtonian physics, are seen to be a figment of our imagination. Absolute simultaneity is also a myth."
September: a very short (3 pages) paper that produced the famous E=mc2 that linked mass and energy through the speed of light. As Rigden puts it: "Humans distinguish between energy and mass, but Nature does not. Even more, humans have made mass into something very different from energy. ... If, however, the objective is to describe Nature accurately, humans must accept Nature on its terms and find a way to rationalize the difference between our concept of mass and our concept of energy. The factor c2 does this. Multiply m by c2, and, de facto, energy and mass become what Nature deems them to be: one and the same."

Rigden also briefly summarizes other seminal papers that Einstein produced by himself or with colleagues, dealing with the equivalence principle (uniform gravitation cannot be distinguished from uniform acceleration; and gravitational mass and inertial mass are one and the same.); his work that anticipated the development of the laser; and work that showed "spooky" action at a distance between matched pairs of photons that are said to be "entangled" (a term coined by Schrodinger in 1935).

But the jewel in the crown is Einstein's general theory of relativity, produced in 1916 in which "The concepts of space, time and gravitation are dramatically changed...the general theory of relativity has replaced the gravitation force, as described by Newtonian physics, with warped spacetime". This paper, according to Ridgen, is considered by many to be "the greatest monument to abstract thought" ever produced by a human being.

This is not a biography of Einstein. It focuses solely on the papers as described. But throughout, Rigden brings out the marvel of Einstein's thought processes, and his unwavering conviction that his predictions were right (as they were invariably proven to be) because the theories were right. Rigden touches on the fact that Einstein could never accept the basic tenets of quantum mechanics and so, after 1927, he "stood apart" from the intellectual environment of physics with his focus instead on trying to unify gravitation and electromagnetism.
  John | Jul 25, 2006 |
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For Albert Einstein, 1905 was a remarkable year. It was also a miraculous year for the history and future of science. In six short months, from March through September of that year, Einstein published five papers that would transform our understanding of nature. This unparalleled period is the subject of John Rigden's book, which deftly explains what distinguishes 1905 from all other years in the annals of science, and elevates Einstein above all other scientists of the twentieth century. Rigden chronicles the momentous theories that Einstein put forth beginning in March 1905: his particle theory of light, rejected for decades but now a staple of physics; his overlooked dissertation on molecular dimensions; his theory of Brownian motion; his theory of special relativity; and the work in which his famous equation, E = mc2, first appeared. Through his lucid exposition of these ideas, the context in which they were presented, and the impact they had--and still have--on society, Rigden makes the circumstances of Einstein's greatness thoroughly and captivatingly clear. To help readers understand how these ideas continued to develop, he briefly describes Einstein's post-1905 contributions, including the general theory of relativity. One hundred years after Einstein's prodigious accomplishment, this book invites us to learn about ideas that have influenced our lives in almost inconceivable ways, and to appreciate their author's status as the standard of greatness in twentieth-century science.

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