04-19-2007 11:30 AM
A few years ago, BN.com readers spent a month with Walter Isaacson talking about one of our most notorious founding fathers in a discussion of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.
Now, Walter is back to talk to readers about his current bestselling biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe. I think you'll find Einstein's life and works an inspiration -- his is the ultimate "think outside the box" success story!
So let's all welcome Walter to the group, and be sure to ask him as many questions as you like -- either in the Questions for the Author thread, or in the discussion topics posted to the board. We're lucky to have such an expert on hand for this conversation!
In the meantime, reply to this message to share your first impressions of the book, or check out the discussion topics and jump right in.
Book Club Editor
05-13-2007 11:50 AM
I'm thoroughly enjoying Mr. Isaacson's book. His writing style makes the most difficult topics (for me) easy to see in the total picture.
In pondering the suggested discussion questions, I attempted to further understand physics (specific, general, quantum), but the information through Wikipedia was overwhelming (over 20 pages per topic) and a friend suggested I try Einstein for Beginners. So I picked that up yesterday. I also printed out definitions about Zionism, Judaism, etc.
But in all this, my personal big question is why? Why is it important that I know about Einstein? What is there about/by him that teaches me, that causes me to be a better person, that adds to the significance of my life? Acknowledging that he was a great scientist who "fathered," if you will, significant thoughts and theories which impacted on humanity in general, what is it that I need to learn and understand? What in his belief in/view of God clarifies some thinking on my part? What challenges my beliefs? What causes me to wrestle and change?
That's why I read, especially, but not only, non-fiction.
05-14-2007 11:01 AM
KathyH wrote: ...in all this, my personal big question is why? Why is it important that I know about Einstein? What is there about/by him that teaches me, that causes me to be a better person, that adds to the significance of my life? Acknowledging that he was a great scientist who "fathered," if you will, significant thoughts and theories which impacted on humanity in general, what is it that I need to learn and understand? What in his belief in/view of God clarifies some thinking on my part? What challenges my beliefs? What causes me to wrestle and change
All good questions. And I think these are the big questions we an ask ourselves about any one person who has been elevated to iconic status (Gandhi, MLK, Mary Wollstonecraft, etc...).
I wish I could answer your questions, but the best I can do is speak for myself. So here goes -- Whenever I'm learning about people who literally changed the way people think about the world, I remind myself that they're only human. Maybe they had more knowledge of a topic (politics, science, war/peace), and maybe they had more courage to speak up, and maybe they had more of the means to spread their influence, but one fact remains: they are still human, complete with all those complexities.
As we see, they may have had tumultous romances. They may feel alone and lacking friends. They may go through long periods of failure (or anonymity) until they inadervtently become the leader of one single event that makes millions of people around the world say "I never thought of that before."
In other words, they're not "that" special. And under the right conditions, at the very least I could change the world in a small way. People like Einstein or Gandhi, for me, don't just provide new answers. They aso represent a new level of human potential.
Einstein's feelings about God, and how they mirror or challenge yours is more of a sticky question, obviously. What I concluded about Einstein was that he considered himself agnostic, if only because no one had yet to scientifically prove God's existence. On p. 335, Isaacson writes that while Einstein didn't believe in a personal God (who deals with morality and its rewards or punishments), but "that a divine design was reflected in the elegant laws that goverened the way the universe works" and that "...the good Lord [wouldn't] have created beautiful and subtle rules that determined most of what happened in the universe while leaving a few things completely to chance." (Or as Einstein famously quipped, "He does not play dice.")
My question is -- if a unifying theory is ever found, would Einstein consider this to be scientific evidence of the existence of God? (Even if he did, I suspect that he'd still hold his belief that morality is a purely human concern, not that of religion...)
Deep questions for all of us to consider. Thanks, KathyH!
Walter, can you shed some light on these topics?
Book Club Editor
05-14-2007 02:25 PM
Thanks for your response. While I agree "famous" people are also human, the reason I like to read about them and what they wrote/said is that they have tackled topics which I am incapable of addressing (for example, physics), and/or they tackled topics which had never occurred to me and made me aware (like Mother Theresa, Gandhi). Einstein encourages me to think, to push aside the boundaries set up by the "we've always believed that," or "we couldn't possibly believe/prove this." He's a major "what if" for me. And look where his free, wandering imagination took him! Mine may not lead to physic equations (actually, they wouldn't for certain!), but it's an encouragement to allow the mind to wander.
05-20-2007 01:54 PM
I'm so disappointed that so many people are reading questions, statements and posts but so few are posting. Others' view points help me to learn.
I wanted to expand a little on my initial reply to your seeing famous people as human. I do think that's very important to remember so we're encouraged to push the boundaries in our own lives, remembering that that's what famous people did. Often they were at the right place at the right time when their particular "find" flowed into life's equation.
I also read "famous," well, at least published, writers because there are so many topics and I just don't have the time, energy, funds, etc. to experience them all on my own. I travel along with them, vicariously experiencing their adventures. I read obituaries and find persons listed who were seen as experts in their fields, whatever field that would be. And I often buy a copy of a person's definitive work. Many are on topics I never imagined - like Roy Porter's A Social History of London. Some, like Mr. Porter's, are really more resource material books with their vast collections of information, but many have been interesting and I was able to understand their writing well enough to appreciate them.
I'll be interested to see what readers of Einstein's life took away from this meeting!
05-25-2007 10:52 AM
Well, as I understand it, today is the last day of this group. I'm sorry the reader participation in discussions wasn't greater, but I'm hoping to get some friends to read this book and discuss is with me.
Thanks to you and to Walter for your willingness to contribute your time and energy.