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Albert Einstein, Chief Engineer of the Universe: Einstein's Life and Work in Context

Jürgen Renn, editor
John Wiley-VCH
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Albert Einstein, Chief Engineer of the Universe
[Reviewed by
Amy Shell-Gellasch
, on

Joint Review of:

“As punishment for my contempt of authority, fate has made me an authority myself.”
— Albert Einstein


The year 2005 marked the centennial of Albert Einstein’s “annus mirabilis”, his miracle year. In 1905 he published twenty-six scientific papers, including his ground-breaking works on the quantum nature of light, Brownian motion and electrodynamics. In celebration of this, the German government sponsored the Einstein Year 2005 with exhibits and conferences in Berlin. As commemoration, three volumes entitled Albert Einstein, Chief Engineer of the Universe were produced. Since discussing any one of these three volumes would reference the other two, a three-in-one review seemed more beneficial to prospective readers. All three of these volumes are richly produced and overflowing with photos, artwork, documents and quotes.

One Hundred Authors for Einstein

This volume takes its title from the pamphlet “100 Authors Against Einstein” that appeared on the brink of World War II in response to Einstein’s pacifist leanings. This volume, which includes then German Prime minister Gerhard Schröder’s opening address to the celebrations, consists of essays from over one hundred scholars from across disciplines and across nations. The contributions are arranged roughly into three areas: historical, philosophical and technical papers on scientific topics that intersect with Einstein’s work and its consequences; Einstein’s life, his research and the areas these have impacted; and aspects of the legacy of Einstein’s work on today’s world, both scientific and political. The majority of the papers are of a general nature. But each has a particular point of view that allows one to reflect on not only Einstein’s role in the subsequent development of science, but on science’s role in general in the shaping of human history.

Einstein’s Life and Work in Context

This volume is a thoroughly enjoyable ramble through the scientific, societal, historical and political landscape that formed both the man and his work. Each short section (forty-three in all) includes a short essay describing the context and significance of the topic at hand. This is followed by a few short historical comments on the people, places, events and so forth that impinged on Einstein and his work. This in turn is followed by two to four pages of images with descriptions of the scientific apparatus or documents pertaining to that section. I personally found these pages the most interesting. This volume also comes with a CD-Rom of film footage of Einstein and related events.

Documents of a Life’s Pathway

This volume contains images of most of the important documents as well as letters, photos, post cards and the like of interest to the average reader. The variety and lay-out are exemplary. However, this is in no way a resource for research. It is simply a companion piece to the other two volumes that allows one to experience the history in an almost first hand manner. Only short descriptions of each item are provided, and no translations are given for the pieces written in German. (Transcriptions are given for the harder to read items.)

Taken as a whole, these volumes provide an enlightening and well-rounded overview of Einstein, his work and its for-runners, his life, the context for these and their affect on the course of science. The organizers and editor would even say their affect on the course of human existence. This might be a bit grandiose. However, the presentations given provide convincing arguments for this. And at the very least allow one to contemplate the immense impact scientific paradigm shifts can have on humanity. These works would be enjoyed by Einstein aficionados and novices alike.

Amy Shell-Gellasch is currently a freelance math historian living in Grafenwoehr Germany while her husband is on a three year tour of duty in Germany. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1989, her master’s degree from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan in 1995, and her doctor of arts degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2000. Her dissertation was a biographical piece on mathematician Mina Rees. Most recently, she conducted research with V. Fredrick Rickey on the history of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the United States Military Academy, where she was an Assistant Professor.



Editor's Introduction and Acknowledgments.


On the Shoulders of Giants and Dwarves.

Invisible Forces.

Gravity and Intertia.

Chemical Changes.

Light, Heat, Magnetism, Electricity.

Labyrinth of Mikroworlds.

Models of the Cosmos.

Modelle of the Earth.

Advancing Towards Infinity.

Models of the Heavens.

Curved Spaces.


Borderline Problems in Classical Physics.

Irritating Experiments.

Milieu of a Childhood.

Milieu of a Revolution.

Academic Career.

War and Revolution.

The Unfinished Quantum Revolution.

The Riddle of Gravitation.

The Second Revolution.

The Triumph of the Theory of Relativity.

The Anti-Relativists.

Albert Einstein as Public Figure.

Wave and Particle as a Persistent Contradiction.

Towards a new Cosmology.

The Paradoxes of Quantum Mechanics.

The Search for the Unity of Nature.

Einstein and Judaism.


Einstein in America.


What is Science?

Putting Relativity to the Test.

Them Large Scale Structure of the World.

Gravitation as a Challenge.

The Small Scale Structure of the World.

Strange Connections.


The Theory of Relativity Under Suspicion.

Einstein Under Suspicion.

The Atomic Bomb.

Science as ab Challenge.

Science in the Media.

Einstein, the Legend.