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Einstein’s Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius – Review by Kenneth Ellman

An excellent writer with a silly title but a good book

From Kenneth Ellman

The title of this book is unfortunate as it does not reflect the value and ability of the author.
This book is not about “Einstein’s Mistakes”, but is actually a generalized discussion in English (very limited mathematics is used) of the writing and discoveries of Albert Einstein and other scientists. Most important is that this author has discussed Einstein with comparisons and integration of many other Physicists and Mathematicians. So this book is really an overview in a mix of somewhat plain and technical English of the areas of Physics worked on by Albert Einstein and other scientists.

The book has this uncanny ability to annoy the reader, particularly with gossipy digressions. But everytime you feel like putting it aside it then pulls you back into the exploration of these ideas by this author in a way that overcomes whatever discomfort the book otherwise contains. Basically in balance it is an excellent work and portrayal of the world of Physics as it relates to Albert Einstein and other Physicists, particularly for those who seek exposure with little mathematical expression..

I do not understand why this author thinks it is in any way important to discuss the family or romantic activities of Einstein. But he clearly does. That takes away from the value of this work and is really a silly distraction.

Yes, of course the book discusses the errors Einstein made is his papers. Certainly there were at times mathematical mistakes and failures to adequately assert and portray the proofs and expressions necessary for a rigorous explanation of the ideas Einstein conveyed. Whether the errors were simply oversights or the examples of insufficient mathematical ability or simply evidence of other concerns and priorities of Einstein is not truly known. Nor do I think it matters. I do believe what Einstein wrote is what he intended and his views and manner of approach may have been different than many others.

The book is valuable, but three main reasons for my endorsement are as follows:

1. It is a cataloging of asserted errors made by Albert Einstein. Whether you believe a particular issue is only alleged error (because Einstein intended the expression to be as is) or proven error (because the assertion is admittedly wrong or the proofs show it to be wrong) really does not matter.
In the reading, following and understanding of this books review of those particular incongruous writings of Einstein this author is also reviewing and teaching and explaining the Physics that underlies the fundamental concepts of science that should be understood. After all you cannot appreciate the assertions of error unless you at least attempt to know and learn the subject being discussed. So in a sense this book is a review of the papers and works of Einstein with an accent on his alleged and manifest errors, and done in such a way that it is accessible to any avid reader with an interest in Science. That is a valuable contribution. You do not have to agree with all the conclusions of this book but in order to participate in the argument you do have to learn and know something of the subject. I love books I can give to people who do not have much of a science background to stimulate their mind. Keep in mind that as this book points out on page 71 that the works of Isaac Newton also had errors some characterized as “nothing short of deliberate fraud”.

2. It is a discussion to a limited extent on the work of other great scientists whose accomplishments interacted with those of Einstein either contemporaneously or historically and the impact of their work. This is useful. In that sense it provides a view of the history of science in this area.

3. It causes an exposure of the manner in which this particular human mind (Einstein), conceptualized his thoughts of Physics. While this has been discussed in other books, that does not mean it is not directly interrelated to the assertions of Einstein’s Errors. What comes through clearly in this book is that the approach of Einstein to his subject was not the approach used by other Scientists of his day. No, he was quite different. The discussion and exposure of the “Errors” of Einstein actually adds to an understanding of how this human mind conceptualized his ideas.
That is valuable.

You do not have to agree with all the conclusions of this book in order that it be a useful and stimulating addition to discussion of ideas. It is not a Physics textbook nor simply a history book.
In its valuable parts it is a look in plain English of the concepts of Physics, the actors who tread its paths and how the human mind has strove and struggled with these concepts and ideas. I do not agree with all in this book, particularly the assessment of Einstein’s work on General Relativity. But that does not take away from its value.
This book is well written. Removing the nonsense personality commentary would have made it shorter and clearer.
Kenneth Ellman

P.S.–To Donald B. Gennery From Kenneth Ellman
In reference to “stipulation that light travels at the same speed in opposite directions” I in part agree with you that the
making of a “stipulation” in and of itself may be a proper manner to approach this question. Certainly I do not find that the
making of the “stipulation” is in any way an improper manner to reach the conclusion. If it is improper I do not understand why.
HOWEVER you should be aware that at the web site of Physics Today, April 2006
it appears this question was briefly discussed by both Steven Weinberg and the author Hans Ohanian.
What would be your response to this?
Thank you very much.
Kenneth Ellman