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Einstein's Greatest Mistake: A Biography

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  401 ratings  ·  72 reviews
From the best-selling author of E=mc2, a brisk, accessible biography of Albert Einstein that reveals the genius and hubris of the titan of modern physics

Widely considered the greatest genius of all time, Albert Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos with his general theory of relativity and helped lead us into the atomic age. Yet in the final decades of hi
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2016)
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ETA: So I have been asked what was Einstein's greatest mistake. Are you wondering too? The answer I gave in message five below is the following:

Einstein could not accept the randomness central to quantum mechanics. This separated him from the research community. The reader does come to understand why he was so stubborn. He had previously erred in thinking that G=T had to have a lambda factor added. When it was discovered that the universe was expanding, the lambda factor was no longer necessary
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I really enjoyed this book. Took me longer to read than usual for me, but that was life getting in the way, not the book itself.

It was written in a very approachable manner. The science, despite being Einstein and completely over my head, was introduced in ways even I could follow and understand.

Einstein was, to my surprise, a bit of a lady's man. No offense, but that hair! I just couldn't, but many women were attracted to him. Even though he was married. For SHAME ladies!

Also, being a product
Brian Clegg
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to ...more
Einstein (1879 to 1955)
Einstein was growing in confidence but still far from smug. When he first came up with the idea for his final paper linking E and M, he had written a friend, "The idea is amusing and enticing, but whether the good Lord is laughing at me and leading me up the garden path- that I cannot know."

The author goes on to describe Einstein's interactions and rivalries that occurred with Friedmann, with Lemaitre, with Edwin Powell Hubble.

Hubble was said to be a diligent worker but Mi
Aug 05, 2017 rated it liked it
When most chapters end with "and Einstein was there but still not close enough" "was oblivious to what was in store for him" "not long before he was convinced of his greatest discovery" - they scream for attention and follow a very predictable fashion of writing especially with finishing chapters in a manner that should push the reader to the next one. Good but obvious attempts.

Also through most of the book Bodanis portrays Einstein to always be in search of that one genius idea that will estab
Craig Rowley
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting take on the cost of isolating and stubbornly sticking to one's traditional views in the face of seemingly insurmountable new discoveries. Perhaps we will find that Einstein was right when we can transcend spacetime-bound thinking just as the flatlanders leapt off their page. Or not, but the journey to find out will be enjoyable in retrospect, I'm sure, maybe even laughable.
Jessica Fellows
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the book very much. It gave you a good background on Einstein and also gave you a good idea of the science going on around him at the time. It was nice that a fair and even description of all science and scientists at the time.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So Einstein was brilliant, and human. A fascinating case study of how science works. Einstein introduced lambda into his simple and elegant general relativity equation to accommodate the then current state of experimental knowledge. Then he (eventually) removed lambda, in line with the work of Lemaitre, Humason and Hubble (which demonstrated an expanding universe) restoring the equation to its original elegance. It turns out that very recent work on dark matter (ironically, work that is partly d ...more
Sep 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Read my full review at my blog Wonderfully Bookish.

Truthfully, I really didn’t know what I was going to make of this book. I haven’t read a biography for ages, and last time I did, it wasn’t packed full of physics. I was a bit worried it’d all go way over my head and I wouldn’t understand very much of it. I was so wrong.

The book is written in a way that helps people who have no knowledge of physics understand what’s going on. It describes every small detail of Einstein’s research and the creatio
This book is a somewhat unconventional biography, in that the term applies rather loosely to it. I do not mean to say that as a critique since the author clearly did not set out to write a biography either, but it is a significant distinction one needs to make early on if one wishes to enjoy the book rather than fight with its course of events. The book focuses on many facets of Einstein's life and times at the start but and as the years pass by the focus is less on Einstein and more on his (cer ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is not a book about Einstein making math or science mistakes! (although he does some of that too) It's a book about genius and hubris, but also about aging and failure and how we deal with both. Failure can be enlightening or disabling, and sometimes both. Einstein and Copernicus faced similar failures, as they aged but handled those failures differently. They both isolated themselves, one by choice and the other by choice and circumstance (Einstein) and their isolation, their quiet times, ...more
George Vernon
Nov 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Einstein's Greatest Mistake is a gripping and enjoyable light read split into bite-size chapters, clearly from a very talented author. Unfortunately it is also very opinionated, and not often substantiated when it is so.

This could be excusable if not for the horrendous attempts to discourse on science. Let's excuse the summing of general relativity into "Geometry = Things." This was the crowning gem:

"Isaac Newton had, after all, disregarded his own qualms about gravity acting instantaneously, an
Matt Ely
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, sciences
I checked out this volume primarily because I knew that Albert Einstein was the guy in the posters who wrote an equation (relativity was involved? the words "special" and "general" might make an appearance?) and had something to do with the nuclear bomb but then said that quote about the fourth world war being stick-centric. Right, so I didn't know very much.

In that sense, the book succeeded. This is not a truly in-depth biography; his (apparently minimal) involvement with the development in th
Anita Ramaswamy
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This biography made me feel like I was talking to a real person whilst reading it, as if I was there. The words were so fluent making it quite calming to read. It made me sad how Einstein had wasted his last 15 years alive being unproductive, believing the universe wasn't actually expanding. It made me wonder what more he could've done, but that was his greatest mistake.

One of my favorite parts of this biography was "interlude one." Interlude one was about a fictional world. Everyone was made o
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A delightful read. An easy-to-comprehend, short biography of the adult life of the great scientist, Einstein, and his reluctance to accept the modern discoveries in the realm of quantum mechanics. Well-researched and clearly written, it leads the reader to better understand the man's formative student days, his emotional attachments and his strong personality; especially the stubborn traits which caused him to be shunned by many other great scientists in his later years.
I really enjoyed this boo
Liam Sandy
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Einsteins greatest mistake is a biography of Einstein that goes in depth into his childhood, discoveries, and elderliness. The book starts the introduction of Einstein's family heritage, and how they worked in a relatively new field, electricity. Then it goes into depth about his schools and troubles with teachers. Even later, the author tells of his young love and friends in Sweden. Finally, it tells of his reflections on his theories and his fallout with other scientists later in life.

In the e
Michelle Miller
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I normally would never pick up this book. I borrowed it from my boyfriend when I needed to read something for a period of time. I became rather absorbed. Not only is it a very interesting account of Einstein's life, but David Bodanis explains complicated rules of physics in a very interesting and appealing way. As someone who never liked physics, I have a better understanding of its concepts. I also feel like he wove Einstein's stories and theories very well together. I have a better idea of the ...more
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This must have been a tricky book to write, because it is part-biography and part-theoretical physics primer. It is written in an accessible manner, although if you have read anything about Einstein's work before then there's not much new here. I was far more interested in the notes about his personal life and how he grappled between instinct and evidence. I think this part of the book could have been emphasised more.
Piyush Sharma
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The book was a time travel for me (in Einstein's language) to revive my Science concepts and analyze great theories of great scientists. It was a deep look into the life and work of great genius. The book narrates the complicated concepts in a very simplistic manner, gives insight of the brilliance of Einstein and his shortcomings that leaved him in seclusion in his last days. This book is really a must read for everyone.
Jerrid Kruse
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book makes the science discusses approachable to non-physicists. The stories of Einstein’s life-arc are interesting and reflection-inducing. I was pleased to see the inclusion of the supporting actors in Einstein’s work. This work focused on Einstein’s work in general relativity and his rebuttals of quantum mechanics with only a bit of detail concerning his early work in special relativity, e=mc2, and photons.
Mikael Lind
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, science
I just loved this mix of scientific theory and biography. I'm sure Bodanis spices up the story a bit, but I don't really care. This is popular science, and entertaining! For me, who only vaguely remember the physics I once learnt at school, it made me revisit Einstein's theories and understand them better than I've done before. And getting to know his private life was, I must say, a joy - such an interesting character, and by no means flawless (as indicated by the book title).
Robert Vlach
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Einstein's Greatest Mistake and E=mc2 by David Bodanis — Both books are great and similar in a way, but especially the first one touched me deeply as a remarkable intellectual biography and the story of how one of the history's greatest minds ended up in almost total intellectual isolation, ignored by most scientists of that time. Sad but true, the book is a must for all intellectuals struggling to stay relevant in their field.
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hadn't read any other Einstein biographies, so can't speak to how this compares, but I thoroughly appreciated this author's take - not only the way he managed to describe the theory of general relativity in a way that my brain could grasp, but the way he contextualized Einstein's brilliant thinking in ways that led him both to incredible success and perhaps prevented him from achieving much more.
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not being terribly adept at science, parts of this book were not understandable and I don't have the wherewithal to read the appendix which explains the theory of relativity. However, after seeing the special this summer about Einstein that aired on television, this was a good follow up to clarify a few things. If you love science, you'll like the book far better than I did.
Sidney El Agib
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book is very well written, it manages to touch just the tip of the physics, psychology as everything is very well combined.
It allows those who read the book to understand the very basic concepts behind Einstein's ideas, but also his huge ego, doubts and touch the human being, not only the mad genius.
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Very broad brush biography of Einstein, weak on physics, focusing on how he isolated himself from the cutting edge (quantum mechanics). It feels like a loss - but the same traits that made him able to discover and formulate general relativity appears to have made him unable to contribute more significantly to QM.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I enjoyed reading about Einstein's personal/early life a lot but sort of stopped caring as much when it got into the science. I mostly was reading this to kill time until the next Harry Potter book was available from the library - otherwise I probably would have finished it. =)
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book opened my eyes to so many different ideas. I originally began reading this book to better understand Einstein, and I came away with even more questions about his work. What is clear is that his ideas are continuing to influence the way many think today!
Mauricio Chirino
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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David Bodanis is the bestselling author of THE SECRET HOUSE and E=MC2, which was turned into a PBS documentary and a Southbank Award-winning ballet at Sadler's Wells. David also wrote ELECTRIC UNIVERSE, which won the Royal Society Science Book of the Year Prize, and PASSIONATE MINDS, a BBC Book of the Week. His newest work, EINSTEIN’S GREATEST MISTAKE, will be published in October 2016.

David has w

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