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Edmund Blair Bolles

Einstein defiant : genius versus genius in the quantum revolution

Einstein's attitude to quantum theory is often portrayed as that of a reactionary, wanting a return to the ways of classical physics. In 'Einstein Defiant' we are told a different story - in the early 1920's it was Einstein himself who was in the forefront of the development of quantum theory with his use of the photon to explain electromagnetism, while Niels Bohr was looking for explanations based on the more classical, wave theory of light.

Although the work is entirely non-technical, Bolles does a very good job in describing the development of physics during revolutionary times. I would recommend the book to readers interested in the history of physics in the 20th century and more generally to anyone interested in the history of Europe between the wars.

The book starts at the end of the First World War, and continues until the end of the 1920's, and it illustrates well how Einstein fared in the worsening political situation. At the start he is influential enough to help secure the releaase of a number of professors being held by revolutionary students, but as time goes on, with the rise of the Nazi party, his position becomes more and more difficult.

My one criticism of the book would be the start of the second part, where the sequence gets very confused. The story has got as far as events of 1924. However, there are then flashbacks to his work on general relativity a decade before, interleaved with a tram journey made by Einstein and Bohr in 1922. Also I felt that the book was rather muddled in it's account of GR, and it's hard to see why this was included at all.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 356 pages  
ISBN: 0309089980
Salesrank: 2277679
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 2004 Joseph Henry Press
Amazon price $16.03
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 356 pages  
ISBN: 0309089980
Salesrank: 2216637
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 2003 Henry (Joseph) Press
Marketplace:New from £12.27:Used from £1.40
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Hardcover 348 pages  
ISBN: 0309089980
Salesrank: 2102333
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 2004 National Academy Press (Trade)
Amazon price CDN$ 30.01
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 30.01:Used from CDN$ 3.90
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Product Description

"I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist." -Albert Einstein

A scandal hovers over the history of 20th century physics. Albert Einstein -- the century's greatest physicist -- was never able to come to terms with quantum mechanics, the century's greatest theoretical achievement. For physicists who routinely use both quantum laws and Einstein's ideas, this contradiction can be almost too embarrassing to dwell on. Yet Einstein was one of the founders of quantum physics and he spent many years preaching the quantum's importance and its revolutionary nature.

The Danish genius Neils Bohr was another founder of quantum physics. He had managed to solve one of the few physics problems that Einstein ever shied away from, linking quantum mathematics with a new model of the atom. This leap immediately yielded results that explained electron behavior and the periodic table of the elements.

Despite their mutual appreciation of the quantum's importance, these two giants of modern physics never agreed on the fundamentals of their work. In fact, they clashed repeatedly throughout the 1920s, arguing first over Einstein's theory of "light quanta"(photons), then over Niels Bohr's short-lived theory that denied the conservation of energy at the quantum level, and climactically over the new quantum mechanics that Bohr enthusiastically embraced and Einstein stubbornly defied.

This contest of visions stripped the scientific imagination naked. Einstein was a staunch realist, demanding to know the physical reasons behind physical events. At odds with this approach was Bohr's more pragmatic perspective that favored theories that worked, even if he might not have a corresponding explanation of the underlying reality. Powerful and illuminating, Einstein Defiant is the first book to capture the soul and the science that inspired this dramatic duel, revealing the personalities and the passions -- and, in the end, what was at stake for the world.