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Einstein, History, and Other Passions


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Table of Contents

Preface Part One: Science in History What Place for Science at the "End of the Modern Era"? The Public Image of Science "Doing One's Damndest": The Evolution of Trust in Scientific Findings Imagination in Science Understanding the History of Science Part Two: Learning from Einstein Einstein's Influence on the Culture of Our Time Einstein and the Goal of Science Of Physics, Love, and Other Passions: The Letters of Albert and Mileva "What, Precisely, Is Thinking?"...Einstein's Answer Notes Acknowledgments Index

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Brilliantly informed, wonderfully written. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

About the Author

Gerald Holton is Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics, and Research Professor of History of Science, Harvard University.


Not intended for the casual or general reader, this book is a scholarly and erudite examination of the role that science plays in our society. Holton (physics and history of science, Harvard) is the author of nine books about science and the editor of 11 others, including serving on the editorial board and committee for the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. His current work is divided into two parts. The first, "Science in History," is an examination of the interaction of science and society, concentrating on the 20th century. In the second part, "Learning from Einstein," Holton uses the life and science of Albert Einstein as a prism through which we can view science as a creative process. Though the book is generally well written, the two parts don't cohere, and ultimately it does not succeed. Recommended for academic science collections.-James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago

[The] book makes a wonderfully cohesive whole. It is rich in ideas, elegantly expressed. I highly recommend it to any serious student of science and culture. -- Lucy Horowitz * Boston Book Review *
An important and lasting contribution to a more profound understanding of the place of science in our culture. -- Hans C. von Baeyer * Boston Sunday Globe *
I know of no better informed scientist who has studied the nature of science for half a century. -- Ron Good * Science and Education *
Holton has succeeded admirably. * New York Times Book Review *
Using Albert Einstein as the embodiment of the creative force that connects science with society, Holton embraces the humanistic side of science and fights the contemporary backlash against it. * Science News *
Holton effectively outlines the terms of a debate that will determine much of our short-range future. * Kirkus Reviews *
Brilliantly informed, wonderfully written. -- John Kenneth Galbraith

Science has taken quite a beating in the last few years. Held responsible for everything from environmental destruction to moral decline, science and technology have fallen a long way from the exalted position they held in the earlier part of this century. Holton, a professor of physics and the history of science at Harvard, makes a strong argument in defense of science. Rejecting the "popular, hostile caricatures" of science as a logical, soulless, incomprehensible wasteland, Holton argues that science can't be adequately understood apart from the greater society and that the dichotomy between the arts and science is a false one. He presents Albert Einstein as a creative, life-affirming person, who was passionate about ideas and understanding life's mysteries. Einstein devoted his life to examining "conventional wisdom" and overturning it when it didn't account for the facts. Holton's Einstein is dynamic and personable, but, unfortunately, the same can't be said about every moment in this book. Holton reiterates several times that the field of science is not restricted to techno-wonks, but some readers are likely to be disheartened plugging through sentences like the following: "Purely as a mnemonic device, let me represent the event E under study as a point in a plane, within orthogonal coordinates, the horizontal of which indicates time." Still, those with a background in science or the sneaking suspicion that recent science-bashing is unfair, will find this book to be an intelligent defense of a great field of human endeavor. (June)

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