As 1915 marks the 100th anniversary of the presentation of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR), we can expect a number of books on the subject.
John Gribbin has an impressive track record in bringing modern science, and in particular Quantum Theory (‘In Search Schrodinger’s Cat’, and ‘Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum revolution’) to the general reader. It’s of no surprise to find him delivering a book on Einstein and the GTR. Unfortunately this book is not to the standard of some of his previous works.
Gribbin argues in the book that although Einstein is remembered more famously for his work of 1905, in particular E=mc2, which is memorialised as his Annus Mirabilis, it is the GTR that is the greater work. He then sets about delivering a book to support this argument.
I have two difficulties with what he says and how he says it.
The first is I’m not convinced people do so regard Einstein’s work in such a way. I accept that many people do recognise the famous equation as, well, a famous equation, but I think most people do recognise the GTR as the pinnacle of Einstein’s scientific work. In that respect, he’s pushing against an open door, rather than arguing against accepted wisdom.
The second is having set out the argument; the book itself is actually rather light on the GTR. In a 208 page book, we don’t meet the theory until page 113 and then only for 40 pages. The balance of the book contains a brief biography of Einstein, the legacy of GTR and, rather curiously given Gribbin’s premise that the GTR should be regarded as Einstein’s greatest achievement, a 68 page chapter on the 1905 papers, entitled Annus Mirablis.
And here is the irony of the book: I actually thought the chapter on the 1905 papers was really rather good, better than the somewhat thin and once over lightly chapter on the GTR. I couldn’t help but feel when reading the book that the author was actually unconvinced by his own premise of the relative greatness of Einstein’s work.
I have given the book 3 stars because any book on Einstein that helps to explain his importance and greatness is welcome and some of the science explanations are well done. However, I can’t give more when, in reality, the book does not deliver on the central argument and fails to appropriately focus on the subject of its title.- the General Theory of Relativity.