Isaacson on Einstein

I have been indulging my addiction to biographies by reading Walter Isaacson's new life of Albert Einstein. It is a sympathetic portrait with a clear enough explanation of Einstein's  scientific contributions that even a layman like me can follow by reading with care. What has most struck me, however, is how interested Einstein was in philosophy especially problems connected to epistemology. Furthermore, it is salutary to remember, and Isaacson provides ample evidence, how causally antisemitic the culture of Europe was in the first half of the twentieth century. Antisemitism touched Einstein not only in matters touching on academic appointments but even in judgments made about his theories. It always strikes me when reading about European Jews early in the twentieth century that the reader has a foreknowledge that not even the most prescient of them possessed. One reads a biography like this fully aware of something they could not foresee: terrible events are on the way. It makes reading such books as this exemplary biography  beyond poignancy - a mood close to anxious fear even if Einstein managed to escape what so many did not.

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.

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