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Group Read > Einstein: His Life and Universe - March 2012

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message 1: by Alias Reader (last edited Mar 01, 2012 01:08PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments What is this thread? : March 2012 Group Read


Book: Einstein  His Life and Universe by Walter IsaacsonEinstein: His Life and Universe

Author:
Walter IsaacsonWalter Isaacson
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Kissinger: A Biography. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

Where: The entire discussion will take place in this thread.

Discussion leader: Marialyce

When: The discussion will begin on March 1, 2012, but feel free to post before.

Spoiler Etiquette: The book has 25 chapters and a short epilogue. A tentative working schedule will be as follows.

March 1-8 ~~ Chapters 1-5
March 9-14 ~~Chapters 6-9
March 15-22 ~~ Chapters 10-15
March 23-29 ~~ Chapters 16-20
March 30 onward ~~ Chapter 21-25 plus epilogue.

If we find the group reading quicker than the schedule we will change it at that time.

Please don't discuss any spoilers beyond the chapters assigned for the week. Though you are free to continue discussing all past chapters.

* Please put the chapter # at the top of your post. And note any major spoilers at the top of your post. However this is a work of nonfiction, so I don't think we have to worry about spoilers as we do with fiction.

Book Details:
Hardcover (also available in paperback)
# Paperback: 551 pages
# Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 13, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0743264746

Synopsis:
A century after Albert Einstein began postulating his "Big Idea" about time, space, and gravity, a new biography examines the scientist whose public idolization was surpassed only by his legitimacy as one of humanity's greatest thinkers. Walter Isaacson, the author of excellent profiles of Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger, utilizes a trove of material from recently opened Einstein archives to offer a probing look at a provocatively freethinking individual. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Einstein-Life-U...


message 2: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Author Bio

• Birth—May 20, 1952
• Where—New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
• Education—B.A., Harvard University; M.A., Oxford University
• Awards—Rhodes Scholar
• Currently—Washington, D.C. area

Walter Isaacson is an American writer and biographer, born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He earned a B. A. in history and literature at Harvard, where he was a member of the Harvard Lampoon. He then attended the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College, reading Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

Isaacson began his career in journalism at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune/States-Item. He joined Time in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine's fourteenth editor in 1996. He became Chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001. In 2003 he became the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Writing
He is the author of American Sketches (2009), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and he is the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986). He is the editor of Profiles in Leadership: Historians on the Elusive Quality of Greatness.

In 2011, Isaacson's authorized biography of Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs was published just weeks after Job's death on October 5, driving the book to the top of the best-seller charts and breaking all records for sales of a biography. The book was based on over forty interviews with Jobs over a two-year period, until shortly before his death. Isaacson also drew on conversations with friends, family members, and even business rivals of the entrepreneur whose vision revolutionized computing, music, phones, animated films, and even publishing.

Political appointments
In October 2005, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed Isaacson vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a thirty-three-member policymaking board that oversaw spending on the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. In December 2007, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the chairman of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, which seeks to create economic and educational opportunities in the Palestinian territories.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed him vice-chair of the Partners for a New Beginning, which encourages private-sector investments and partnerships in the Muslim world. He also serves as the cochair of the U.S.-Vietnamese Dialogue on Agent Orange, which in January 2008 announced completion of a project to contain the dioxin left behind by the U.S. at the Da Nang air base and plans to build health centers and a dioxin laboratory in the affected regions.
He was appointed by President Obama to be the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and the other international broadcasts of the U.S. government. He is also the chairman of the board of Teach for America. (From Wikipedia.)
http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guid...


message 3: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Discussion Questions * May contain spoilers



1. What kind of mind conceives of thought experiments like wondering what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam? In other words, how would you describe the mind that was Einstein's—even in his youth? (Words like brilliant or genius don't count.)

2.Talk about Einstein as a young man, especially his treatment of his first wife, Mileva and his newborn daughter. What kind of a person was he?

3. Overall, how would you describe the outsized personality of Albert Einstein? Consider for instance his reaction to his parents, as well as his teachers at Zurich Polytechnic. What part does Einstein's rebelliousness play in his ability to formulate his scientific breakthroughs? To what degree does he mature or change over the years?

4. How well does Isaacson deal with the science in this book? Do you find the discussion of Einstein's s discoveries lucid or understandable? Does Isaacson help you grasp the concepts of relativity, or the famous equation E=MC2? Or do you still find them too dense to comprehend?

5. In what way did Einstein attempt to justify religious faith with his understanding of the universe. What did he mean when he said that God "would not play dice by allowing things to happen by chance"? Consider, as well, this statement: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind."

6. Talk about Einstein's world view—the concepts that undergirded his geo-politics and philosophy toward life. Consider, for example, his stances on racial discrimination, Joseph McCarthy, the cold war, nuclear proliferation, and Nazism.

6. Consider Einstein's dismay regarding his role in creating the atomic bomb. especially his comment that "he would never have lifted a finger" to help the U.S. develop the bomb had he known that Germany could not successfully develop one.

7. What surprised you most about Albert Einstein as you read this book?

8. What particular passages struck you while reading the book: something insightful, controversial, or humorous— anything that strikes you.


message 4: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments NY Times review

April 9, 2007
Books of The Times
The Scale of Einstein, From Faith to Formulas
By JANET MASLIN

EINSTEIN: HIS LIFE AND UNIVERSE

By Walter Isaacson.

675 pp. Simon & Schuster. $32.

The story of Albert Einstein’s life calls for a protean biographer, not to mention a fearless one. Conveying the magnitude of Einstein’s scientific achievements is tough enough, but that’s just the start. His geopolitics, faith, cultural impact, philosophy of science, amorous affairs, powers of abstraction and superstar reputation are all part of this subject. So are the two world wars through which Einstein lived and the internecine physics-world struggles in which he became embroiled.

Then there are the odd quirks and the pricelessly prophetic anecdotes, as when one Zurich classmate of the budding genius went home to tell his parents that “this Einstein will one day be a great man.” Many of these need to be included, and matters of scale make this job dauntingly difficult too. Einstein’s earth-shaking concept of general relativity is directly juxtaposed, in Walter Isaacson’s confidently authoritative “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” with a set of household rules that the great man wrote to keep his first wife at bay. “You will stop talking to me if I request it,” this document asserted. “You will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way.”

Mr. Isaacson deals clearly and comfortably with the scope of Einstein’s life. If his highly readable and informative book has an Achilles’ heel, it’s in the area of science. Mr. Isaacson had the best available help (most notably the physicist Brian Greene’s) in explicating the series of revelations Einstein brought forth in his wonder year, 1905, and the subsequent problems with quantum theory and uncertainty that would bedevil him.

But these sections of the book are succinctly abbreviated. Paradoxically that makes them less accessible than they would have been through longer, more patient explication. Still, the cosmic physics would be heavy sledding in any book chiefly devoted to Einstein’s life and times, and Mr. Isaacson acknowledges that. “O.K., it’s not easy,” he writes, “but that’s why we’re no Einstein and he was.”

In his introduction to “Einstein,” Mr. Isaacson sounds dangerously as if he is again trumpeting the virtues of a founding father (his last book was a biography of Benjamin Franklin). “Tyranny repulsed him, and he saw tolerance not simply as a sweet virtue but as a necessary condition for a creative society,” he proclaims. Whiffs of a textbook tone are similarly alarming. (“Einstein would become a supporter of world federalism, internationalism, pacificism, and democratic socialism, with a strong devotion to individual liberty and freedom of expression.”) But over all this is a warm, insightful, affectionate portrait with a human and immensely charming Einstein at its core.

“Oh my! That Johnnie boy!/So crazy with desire/While thinking of his Dollie/His pillow catches fire.” That was a poem written by the love-struck future patent clerk of Bern, Switzerland (he would spend seven years in that job while writing his greatest scientific papers) to Mileva Maric, the first of two women he would marry. (To dissolve this union, the ever-confident Einstein offered Maric the money from a Nobel Prize he had not yet won.) It reveals a different side of Einstein than his famous “On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light” did.

But in Mr. Isaacson’s artfully seamless account, the genius and the flirt are remarkably well reconciled. And that first marriage was based on both. “I can already imagine the fun we will have,” he wrote to Maric about a prospective vacation. “And then we’ll start in on Helmholtz’s electromagnetic theory of light.”

Mr. Isaacson does a similarly graceful job of integrating Einstein’s science with his broader philosophical concerns, especially the global worries that plagued him with the approach of the Second World War. Even as a committed pacifist he remained primarily a scientist and revised his opinions as fate required. “For a scientist, altering your doctrines when the facts change is not a sign of weakness,” Mr. Isaacson underscores.

And the man who had once listed his religion as “Mosaic” when applying for a professorship in Prague became much more thoughtful about Judaism in later years. Whatever Einstein’s precise faith, Mr. Isaacson says, “his beliefs seemed to arise from the sense of awe and transcendent order that he discovered through his scientific work.”

With the help of many witty, candid letters, Mr. Isaacson offers a wonderfully rounded portrait of the ever-surprising Einstein personality. Equally important is the Einstein myth, and the material on this subject is even more entertaining. Einstein horrified his colleagues by enjoying his vast celebrity. (“Einstein’s personality, for no clear reasons, triggers outbursts of a kind of mass hysteria,” the German consul reported to Berlin as the great man made one of his rock-star visits to New York.) He also stymied the press in its efforts to keep up with his accomplishments. Mr. Isaacson has great fun with the reportorial frenzy that surrounded each new pearl of Einsteinian wisdom. Among the headlines that appeared in The New York Times: “Unintelligible to Laymen” and “Stars Not Where They Seemed or Were Calculated to Be, but Nobody Need Worry.”

Mr. Isaacson is also keenly attuned to the intellectual crises hidden by the hoopla. As Einstein aged, he changed from a fierce young iconoclast to a pillar of science, resistant to advances in the very quantum ideas that he himself had brought forth. “The intellect gets crippled,” he said of growing older, “but glittering renown is still draped around the calcified shell.” Here as throughout the book Mr. Isaacson asks the right questions. (“So what made Einstein cede the revolutionary road to younger radicals and spin into a defensive crouch?”) And he answers them with the clear, broad grasp of complex issues that make this book an illuminating delight.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/09/boo...


message 5: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity

Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.


message 6: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 2941 comments One of my favorites from him is, "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

Looking forward to reading the book together.

deb


message 7: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments As this has been on my shelf since it came out, I'll be joining you -- just needed the excuse! I'm relieved you do a schedule of discussions. Until I came to the thread, I figured one had to have the whole book read by the start date. Phwew! I was plowing through and got to Ch. 6, and figured there was no way I'd be finished by Thursday. Glad I don't have to be!

Sharon


message 8: by Marialyce (new)

Marialyce Libyrinths wrote: "As this has been on my shelf since it came out, I'll be joining you -- just needed the excuse! I'm relieved you do a schedule of discussions. Until I came to the thread, I figured one had to have t..."

I have not even started yet, so relax and enjoy.....no pressure....


message 9: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 955 comments I wanted to read this but I REALLY need to get caught up on everything I have already started. This 4 books at once idea was not a good one. Maybe if I make good progress in the next couple weeks I will get to it but all you guys need to make this book sound so good that I can't stay away. Hehe :-)


message 10: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 2941 comments LOL, Julie, you sound like me. For a woman who formerly never read more than one book at a time, i'm dismayed to see that i presently have three books going! One is on my ereader & must be read by Wednesday, so it's getting priority right now.

Like you, however, i intend to read & discuss this Einstein bio. Looking forward to a good discussion about a fascinating man.

deb


message 11: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 955 comments It's just too stressful isn't it? :-)
I just quit one of my books because its very large and not exciting enough to bother finishing right now, put one book of short stories back on my to read list to finish some other time, and I still have two left. I am going to finish the smaller one before starting anything else new! The other is the Freedom of Fear buddy read that I am a week behind on and need to catch up.


message 12: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 2941 comments I find that if i try to "force read" a book, i lose much content. It's only in book groups that i realize how much i've missed, so i try to pace myself. And, as might be suspected, it's almost always a 500+ book when i realize this is what i've done.

deb


message 13: by Alias Reader (last edited Feb 28, 2012 09:15PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments I've just begun to read the first dozen or so pages.

Almost immediately I wished the author had included some type of glossary. I will admit my knowledge of physics is zero. So when he puts out names such as
Max Planck http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Planck
or Niels Bohr http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neils_Bohr
I have no idea who he is talking about. Even without a glossary couldn't Isaacson have written something like, "Max Planck, Father of Quantum physics,...." I didn't even bother to look up quantum physics or some of the words in the "4 papers" he opens the book with.

I am going to just let the physics slide by and focus on the story. I am just hoping the books focus is not on physics but on the man.


message 14: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Chapter 2

When we are told E had echolalia and "thinks in pictures" I couldn't help but wonder if E was autistic or had Asperger syndrome.

As to the "thinking in pictures, that was the title of Temple Grandin book.

Grandin, as you probably know, is a high-functioning autistic person. I've read a few of her books and found them fascinating and very inspiring.

Thinking In Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life With Autism


message 15: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 955 comments ech·o·la·li·a
noun
1.
Psychiatry . the uncontrollable and immediate repetition of words spoken by another person.


I added Thinking in Pictures to my to-read list.


message 16: by Marialyce (new)

Marialyce Did Einstein really fail math?
First and foremost, let us dispel the most popular, most beloved rumor about Einstein of all. He did not fail math. He got top grades in math and science all of his life. He also didn't fail out of school -- though he did abruptly leave his secondary school when his family moved to Italy during his final year. But he did earn his diploma elsewhere and then went on to and graduated from college
(albeit with only fair grades, and he was known to skip a lot of classes. . . )

To be honest, however, for a high-end theoretical physicist, Einstein's math was subpar. His earlier papers -- while elegant, brief, and brilliant -- often contain simple errors. However, it must be remembered the Einstein was not balancing a checkbook, he was balancing the forces of gravity and the speed of light. The level of mathematics he was doing is far beyond two-plus-two. And so it's more correct to say that Einstein wasn't a mathematician -- and that he needed their help quite often to make sure his theories did pan out in the end.

I loved these quotes.....

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
"Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love."
"I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."
"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
"The only real valuable thing is intuition."
"A person starts to live when he can live outside himself."
"I am convinced that He (God) does not play dice."
"God is subtle but he is not malicious."


message 17: by Shay (new)

Shay | 61 comments The Newtonian concept of space and time:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/new...

Absolute, true, and mathematical time, from its own nature, passes equably without relation to anything external, and thus without reference to any change or way of measuring of time (e.g., the hour, day, month, or year).
Absolute, true, and mathematical space remains similar and immovable without relation to anything external. (The specific meaning of this will become clearer below from the way it contrasts with Descartes' concept of space.) Relative spaces are measures of absolute space defined with reference to some system of bodies or another, and thus a relative space may, and likely will, be in motion.
The place of a body is the space which it occupies, and may be absolute or relative according to whether the space is absolute or relative.
Absolute motion is the translation of a body from one absolute place to another; relative motion the translation from one relative place to another.

Newton devotes the bulk of the Scholium to arguing that the distinction between the true quantities and their relative measures is necessary and justified.

It is evident from these characterizations that, according to Newton:

1. space is something distinct from body and exists independently of the existence of bodies,
2. there is a fact of the matter whether a given body moves and what its true quantity of motion is, and
3. the true motion of a body does not consist of, or cannot be defined in terms of, its motion relative to other bodies.


message 18: by Madrano (new)

Madrano (madran) | 2941 comments You folks are really whetting my appetite for this book! I have 2 more chapters on my John Quincy Adams bio to finish first...


message 19: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Alias said: I am going to just let the physics slide by and focus on the story. I am just hoping the books focus is not on physics but on the man.

Alias, this is doable, at least so far as I've read. Isaacson tries, but doesn't do a great job explaining the physics anyway. From the fact that he doesn't go into great detail on it, but tries to just give a general idea, I think he supposed many people would find the physics challenging/boring/whatever.


message 20: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Libyrinths wrote: "Alias, this is doable, at least so far as I've read.
----------

Well, I am going to give it the old college try. :)


message 21: by Alias Reader (last edited Feb 29, 2012 12:20PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Chapter 2

According to E's sister, "persistence and tenacity were obviously already part of his character."

This made me think of the differed gratification Stanford Marshmallow experiment.

The kids, who were around age five, that demonstrated an ability to delay gratification did better in life. They even scored higher on the SAT.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford...


message 22: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Julie wrote: I added Thinking in Pictures to my to-read list.
----------

I found it to be a fascinating book, Julie.

I also noticed in chapter 2 how E is described as a "loner" "detached" and maybe lacks some ability to "empathize." These traits, coupled with the echolalia and "thinks in pictures" seem to make autism a distinct possibility.


message 24: by Shay (new)

Shay | 61 comments I think Asperger's is more likely. Autism is usually characterized by a regression toward infantile behavior- usually around 3-5 years. Aspies have normal development except social and language skills. (My son is an Aspie and that's how the diagnosis and the distinction is made between the two.)


message 25: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Shay wrote: "I think Asperger's is more likely. Autism is usually characterized by a regression toward infantile behavior- usually around 3-5 years. Aspies have normal development except social and language ski..."
------------

Temple Grandin I think calls herself autistic. Though I can see how some would say she is more Asperger's. Here is her website.
http://www.templegrandin.com/

What I like about her is she explains how the world needs all types of people. "She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids."

Here is a terrific video of her speaking on this.
http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grand...

From my understanding of it, which you certainly have more knowledge than I do, Asperger disorder is an autism spectrum disorder.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger...

You mentioned language, Shay. E's delay in language and difficulty with language is also a symptom of aspergers/autism.


message 26: by Shay (new)

Shay | 61 comments The classification of Asperger's is one of those things that's generated a lot of controversy. My son's doctor believes that Asperger's is distinct from autism- there was a great controversy a year or two back about the classification of these diseases in the DSM-V. I believe that "officially" autism is part of the autism spectrum, which is in turn considered on the PDD spectrum (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). But, many/most doctors think that Asperger's is separate. Quite a bit may be related to the stigma- a vast majority of people with autism have mental retardation. Most people with Asperger's have above average IQ's when tested in preferred modality (non-verbal tests) So, functioning at Einstein's level would amount to saying he had HFA- which is rare, or really being an autistic savant- even rarer. Also, Asperger's tend to crop up in families like Einstein's- scientists, mathematicians, professors, etc. Family history also plays a big part in diagnosis and distinction between Asperger's and autism. Also, most people of the age of Grandin would have been diagnosed with autism.


message 27: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments First, Shay, thanks for that update on Asperger's being thought to be distinct from the autism spectrum. Also, nice of you to post about Newton's conception of space/time. It may help those who try to see the difference between Einstein's new formulation of it and the Newtonian one.

Just a word about Grandin...I forget which book of hers I read, but I could tell by the way the thoughts were structured that her mind didn't work the same as most people's. I'd have to get the book and analyze to be more specific here, but the point is, I think that Asperger's people have more fluidity of thinking and expression.

I'm also not convinced Einstein was Asperger's. Living in one's mind and being more focused on the intellectual doesn't mean one is Asperger's, but it can be a detriment to normal human interaction.

There's the old joke about the kid who never spoke. Not at 2 nor at 5 nor at 7. They took him to doctors, had him tested. Couldn't figure it out. When he was 12, one night at dinner, he suddenly said, "This food tastes like #@!*." Everyone stared at him, and then exclaimed, "You can speak! Why have you never spoken before?" He said, "Up until now, everything's been fine."


message 28: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Then there's the one about the young man who joins a monastery, where there is a vow of silence, and one is only allowed to speak once every 10 years. So ten years passes and he says, "Bed's hard". He goes another ten years, and says, "Food's bad." Then another 10 years goes by and he says, "I quit!" The abbott says, "I'm not surprised, you've been complaining ever since you got here."

Okay, back the the universe....


message 29: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Shay wrote: "The classification of Asperger's is one of those things that's generated a lot of controversy. My son's doctor believes that Asperger's is distinct from autism- there was a great controversy a year..."
------------

Thanks for explaining it further.


message 30: by Marialyce (last edited Feb 29, 2012 05:55PM) (new)

Marialyce Chapter 1 and 2~ I had to think how totally apt it was for Einstein to have such an affinity to music. Music is so mathmatically based and the appeal of Mozart seems to hammer this home. I believe studies have been done which prove the mathmatically synthesis of Mozart's music and its ability to somewhat stimulate the part of the brain that deals with numbers hence math. There was even some thought given to exposing students, prior to taking a math exam, compositions of Mozart for a period of 10-15 minutes. It was believed that this experience would elevate their score.

I also had to think of the people we label geniuses, men like Einstein, Hawking, Edison, Pascal, Fisher, da Vinci, who had physical and or mental issues. Their initial aloneness in childhood seemed to allow them the ability to more explore issues of the mind.

Do you think that a genius needs that aloofness in order to thrive? Some conjecture also that there is a very fine line between genius and insanity. Does this seem plausible as well?

Interesting too, was Einstein's lack of Jewishness, as if the religious part was a constraint against the thinking part of him. Do you think religion inhibits people or has inhibited people from reaching potential? Look at Galileo who was excommunicated because of his thinking.

Btw on some lists Einstein does not make the genius cut with an IQ of only about 160! Although, Einstein's brain had a much larger corpus callosum than the average man. The corpus callosum connects the right and left hemispheres and allows them to successfully transfer information back and forth (communicate with one another). In contrast another genius named Kim Peek although a savant, he has some exceptional brain abilities. He is lacking a functional corpus callosum (which makes it impossible for his right and left brain hemispheres to exchange information) and has a damaged cerebellum. Without a corpus callosum, some develop above average memory abilities. In Kim Peek’s case, he can read a new book in about 1 hour and manages to retain over 98% of the information within the book! Impressive.


message 31: by Amy (new)

Amy (AmyBF) | 465 comments There is no scientifically precise definition of genius. A number of psychologists consider an IQ of 145-plus to be "genius or near-genius level." Stanford-Binet suggests it to be approximately 152. Approximately 95% of the population scores within two standard deviations of the mean, i.e., has an IQ between 70 and 130. In fact, the 98th-percentile score on the vast majority of IQ tests is 130.82. As well, estimates are that only .13% of the population possesses an IQ over 157. So an IQ of 160, which a lowball estimate of Einstein's is calculated to be, would certainly qualify him for the distinction on any reputable list. Estimating his true IQ is tricky, however, as Einstein was exceptionally strong in math and logic, and relatively weak verbally.

Because it's difficult to quantify it at a specific point, it is generally stated that a genius is someone who "embodies exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight." I think it can be agreed that Einstein certainly fit that description.


message 32: by Shay (new)

Shay | 61 comments Marialyce wrote: "Chapter 1 and 2~ I had to think how totally apt it was for Einstein to have such an affinity to music. Music is so mathmatically based and the appeal of Mozart seems to hammer this home. I believe ..."

I think by definition, genius is not normal. I think genius is isolating. I think that even "low" geniuses- the 140-150 IQ rage are isolated from "normal" people. I think as you go up from there, you get more isolated- when would you ever meet your peers, really. There's a vast difference in world view, thoughts, etc. So, I think in many cases genius and insanity are linked.


message 33: by Alias Reader (last edited Mar 01, 2012 06:28AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Here are a few articles on the link between insanity and genius. The articles are too long to post, so I've provided a link. You can also google, "insanity and genius"


Here is an article from Psychology Today titled, Genius and Madness.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/articl...

Here is an article that says there is a genetic link. The article is titled, The link between genius and madness
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/art...

"Here is a interesting article titled, Fine line between genius and insanity: study
http://www.thelocal.se/26708/20100518/
It is previously known that highly creative abilities are somewhat more common in people who have familial history of mental illness and thus carry a greater risk of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Researchers at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute have now sought to explain this link by studying receptors in the thalamic region of the brain."
-for full article see link.


message 34: by Alias Reader (last edited Mar 01, 2012 06:40AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Marialyce wrote: Chapter 1 and 2~ I had to think how totally apt it was for Einstein to have such an affinity to music. Music is so mathmatically based and the appeal of Mozart seems to hammer this home. I believe studies have been done which prove the mathmatically synthesis of Mozart's music and its ability to somewhat stimulate the part of the brain that deals with numbers hence math. There was even some thought given to exposing students, prior to taking a math exam, compositions of Mozart for a period of 10-15 minutes. It was believed that this experience would elevate their score.
--------------

I guess that is why you can buy the Mozart for Babies CD's. Some think they can raise a babies IQ. Though I don't think this has stood up to testing.

I actually have a few from the Mozart Effect series. I think there are about a dozen in the series. My favorite is The Mozart Effect to Relax and Unwind.
http://www.amazon.com/Music-Mozart-Ef...

Even though most dismiss this as nonsense, the Relax and Unwind in the series is one of my favorites to put on while I am reading.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mozart_e...


message 35: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments In case anyone missed this information in post #1, here is the tentative reading schedule. Of course it's flexible and we shall see how it goes once we start discussing the book.

March 1-8 ~~ Chapters 1-5
March 9-14 ~~Chapters 6-9
March 15-22 ~~ Chapters 10-15
March 23-29 ~~ Chapters 16-20
March 30 onward ~~ Chapter 21-25 plus epilogue.


message 36: by Alias Reader (last edited Mar 01, 2012 01:09PM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Chapter 4

I had to lol, when I read about E's mother and her dislike of Maric Mileva.

"Another time she (mother) brought up the fact that Maric was 24 and he was then only 21. 'By the time you're 30, she'll be an old witch.'"

Chapter 4 opens with a picture of Mileva and Hans Albert Einstein, 1904. Does anyone know if there are decedents of Einstein currently living?


message 37: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Amy said: There is no scientifically precise definition of genius.

Yes, in fact I'd go so far as to say that our definition of "genius" is fairly subjective. We tend to apply it to people who have publicly and even flamboyantly done something out of the norm which appears to be a significant contribution to society. But that may or may not correlate to IQ. There are people working in science today who are no doubt geniuses by IQ level, making significant contributions to science, and who probably aren't known by almost anyone in the general public. (Ed Witten comes to mind.) But if we could go back in time and develop a test for IQ for Renaissance Italy, would Leonardo have tested in the genius range? How about Dante? Boccaccio? Brunelleschi? How about if we could time travel to ancient Greece and do the same. Pericles? Socrates? Thales? Pythagoras?

My point is, the idea of genius is really a romantic one. There is no guarantee a high IQ will mean you make a serious contribution to knowledge or culture, and there's no guarantee that someone who has done so would test high on an IQ test.


message 38: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Shay said: I think that even "low" geniuses- the 140-150 IQ rage are isolated from "normal" people. I think as you go up from there, you get more isolated- when would you ever meet your peers, really

Mensa meetings.


message 39: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Alias said: It is previously known that highly creative abilities are somewhat more common in people who have familial history of mental illness and thus carry a greater risk of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Alias, this link is what bothers me about some of the over-medication of our society. Don't get me wrong: I think it's an utter blessing that today we have meds which can treat serious mental illness. But, the question does arise about giving meds at the slightest sign of nonconformity -- especially to children. What kinds of creativity and insight are we short-circuiting with this kind of thing? What if Einstein had been born in 1970? Would he have been diagnosed with ADD and medicated? And perhaps never reached his potential? Just food for thought.


message 40: by Michele (new)

Michele Weiner | 130 comments Alias Reader wrote: "Julie wrote: I added Thinking in Pictures to my to-read list.
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I found it to be a fascinating book, Julie.

I also noticed in chapter 2 how E is described as a "loner" "detached" and ..."


He is described as a loner, but is also described as having many lifelong friends with whom he played music, chatted, and discussed science. I don't think it's possible to say whether he was on the autistic spectrum from the information given. I tend to think he was not. His wife, on the other hand, seems to have been depressed, disappointed and jealous. E and M were bohemian enough to have premarital sex, but not bohemian enough to endure the consequences of their affair. Perhaps that's what drove M over the edge, but I suspect she felt herself losing him, a recurring theme when dealing with genius. I also wonder about E's parents, who seemed very harsh to me.


message 41: by Michele (new)

Michele Weiner | 130 comments Shay wrote: "The classification of Asperger's is one of those things that's generated a lot of controversy. My son's doctor believes that Asperger's is distinct from autism- there was a great controversy a year..."

Alias Reader wrote: "Here are a few articles on the link between insanity and genius. The articles are too long to post, so I've provided a link. You can also google, "insanity and genius"

Great information. I agree with your doctor, and I would go further. I think the definition of autism expanded wildly for some years, so much so that it became a virtually meaningless diagnosis. I am a psychologist by trade and training, and I did diagnosis and assessment of children for years. E. is thought to be diagnosable as something because his language was delayed, he was an unusually visual thinker, he did poorly in school, and was emotionally detached. But the complaints his teachers had about him revolved around laziness and disrespect for authority, not social isolation and failure to relate to others or communicate effectively using language. His detachment from his first wife was probably due to her unhappiness and jealousy. I admit he left his kids behind to some extent, but he is described as a wonderful and playful father when he was with the kids. He made friends with fellow scientists easily and kept friendships for years. It doesn't add up to autism or Asperger's to me.

And so far I haven't read anything to make me think E. was insane. His wife might have been clinically depressed, maybe with good reason, but he seems-so far- to be the farthest thing from mentally ill, at least before the war, which is as far as I've gotten.



message 42: by Michele (new)

Michele Weiner | 130 comments Rereading my comments above, I want to add a disclaimer. I have some expertise in this area, but not as much as some of the rest of you. I have a way of expressing myself that can sound pretty cocky. Don't mean to be, that's just how I write. Unfortunately. I am really enjoying all the comments and the links to other information. Thanks so much to all of you.


message 43: by Shay (new)

Shay | 61 comments My dad is also an Aspie. He has a wide circle of friends- many of them from childhood. The real issue is expression of traits. In other words, not understanding social cues or societal norms can evolve into what we think of as typically autistic or Aspergian- shyness, detachment, inability to form relationships. In the case of my father, not picking up on cues means he's very outgoing and free spirited. He's not bound by conventional behavior and doesn't pick up on cues. Same issue, different expression due to personality, temperament, upbringing, etc. So, in Einstein, I don't think it can be discounted any more than proven. Especially because we know that autism/Asperger's are diseases on a continuum and we know that they have a high degree of co-morbidity with other diseases that can mask expression of certain autism/Asperger's traits.


message 44: by Madrano (last edited Mar 02, 2012 08:09AM) (new)

Madrano (madran) | 2941 comments I read the first 5 chapters of the book last night, so feel a bit caught up, particularly given the schedule Alias posted, which i hadn't noticed earlier. (Thank you.) The discussion of Asperger's/autism has been interesting but i'm not familiar enough with them to comment intelligently. Instead, my thoughts were more about the society and era in which Einstein was raised.

Because information and reportage about the man is based upon ideas of the "norm" are from the late 19th century & early 20th century, it seems misguided to try to type cast him or anyone else, tempting as it might be. I suspect even our definition of "loner" is different from what those from those times meant. I'm not saying the reporters are unreliable, only that their frame of reference was a different set of expectations from what we have today. A bit frightening is what someone here posted, would he be put on medication today, given his proclivities?

Libyrinths, i liked your two "stories". My son was delayed in talking. The pediatrician sent him for test when he still wasn't talking at age 2 1/2. The specialist wondered why he was referred at all. In essence she said, "It seems he hasn't anything to say yet." So, your story sang to my memory.

I can see this is going to be a lively discussion, so i look forward to it. This is the second or third biography i've read about Einstein, including one author mentioned in the book, Banesh Hoffmann ( Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel). In each of those, as well as other books on science i've read it was the visual explanations of his theories which led to my comprehension of his work. (The elevator, the train, etc.) It's possible i just missed it but somehow i didn't realize that these visuals (& reworking them in his mind) were how the theories were worked out. Fascinating!

deb


message 45: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) | 955 comments I just wanted to say that this thread is interesting even though I am not even reading the book yet!


message 46: by Michele (new)

Michele Weiner | 130 comments Shay wrote: "My dad is also an Aspie. He has a wide circle of friends- many of them from childhood. The real issue is expression of traits. In other words, not understanding social cues or societal norms can ev..."

I think you are right. We can't make a judgement from here. If everyone who missed social cues was diagnosed, where would we be? My husband has to be kicked under the table at least once a month, but he hasn't been classified yet!!


message 47: by Alias Reader (last edited Mar 02, 2012 10:14AM) (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments I don't think it's wrong to speculate and discuss a book we are reading about a person who is long dead. It's all done in the spirit of a book discussion. We are not doctors evaluating a patient. So I take a much lighter approach to it all.

For me, the way the author presented the information made me think of autism/aspergers. I am just posting my impressions of a book. Others may disagree. That's cool and I enjoy the back and forth about the topic. That's the fun of reading a book together. Sharing ideas.

Speaking of the author, at times I get a feeling of condescension or feeling of superiority about the people he is writing about and towards the reader. There have just been a few lines that brought this feeling on, but it's enough to make me a bit put off on the author. Anyone else get this feeling?


message 48: by Michele (new)

Michele Weiner | 130 comments I didn't get that feeling yet, but I could have missed something. I am very impressed with the colorful language Isaacson uses. I just read Catherine the Great and almost expired from boredom. If an author can make HER life boring, he should hang it up. But this one is much more interesting. THIS, I think, is a sentence! "More than three years older than Einstein, afflicted with a congenital hip dislocation that caused her to limp, and prone to bouts of tuberculosis and despondency, Mileva Maric was known for neither her looks nor her personality." He went on to say, in case one wondered what Maric offered, that she was "Einstein's muse, partner, lover, wife, bete noire, and antagonist, and she would create an emotional field more powerful than that of anyone else in his life. It would alternately attract and repulse him with a force so strong that a mere scientist like himself would never be able to fathom it." Beautiful.


message 49: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (AliasReader) | 8732 comments Michele wrote: "I didn't get that feeling yet, but I could have missed something.

----------

There were just few sentences that rubbed me the wrong way. A bit sarcastic in tone.

I'm reading the hardcover edition.
Chapter 4 page 55
"His two letters do not stand as models for future generations seeking to learn how to write a job application."

Chapter 3 page 41
"They were very different from each other, particularly intellectually. Marie's letters, especially when she was feeling insecure, often descended into babble"

I know she said herself that she was writing a lot of rubbish. But she was insecure and I felt she was perhaps just writing of things that would seem trivial to a person like E.

Again, nothing major, it it just left that impression with me.


message 50: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 121 comments Alias disliked: "His two letters do not stand as models for future generations seeking to learn how to write a job application."

I cracked up when I read this. Perhaps it's just a difference in sense of humor.

I also haven't thought Isaacson was being condescending. What I DID think was that he was covering a subject which has been covered many times, and he was trying to make it fresh. So, I think rather than going for earnest, he's going for a lighter tone.

One of the things which struck me in these chapters was getting more detail about the whole Lieserl thing. I knew the outline, but the picture he drew of that episode made me really dislike him for not trying to find some way of having their daughter with them.

Alias said: I don't think it's wrong to speculate and discuss a book we are reading about a person who is long dead.

I don't either, but I'm wondering why you thought someone thought it was.


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Books mentioned in this topic

Einstein: His Life and Universe (other topics)
Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism (other topics)
Einstein in Love: (other topics)
Popular Books on Natural Science. for Practical Use in Every Household, for Readers of All Classes (other topics)
Rescuing Einstein's Compass (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Walter Isaacson (other topics)
Temple Grandin (other topics)
Shulamith Levey Oppenheim (other topics)
Aaron David Bernstein (other topics)
Dennis Overbye (other topics)
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