The story on Albert Einstein is pretty well known. Great scientist, had probably the best year anybody ever had in anything, made a lot of important discoveries revolutionized the way we understand the physical world.
But somehow he never seemed to get on board with quantum theory. Relativity was his thing and somehow he could never get his mind around the whole god playing dice statistical nature of reality in the quantum world. To me at least, this flaw, this blind spot seemed endearingly human. Hey, if Einstein can have a such a weakness, they’re hope for the rest of us in an imperfect world!
But along comes A. Douglas Stone with his book Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian. In it, Stone attempts to set the record straight: far from shying away from quantum theory during his later years, he was in fact obsessed with it and most of his important output after he was done with relativity was concerned with defining and advancing quantum theory. From the point of view of a non-physicist, I have to say that Stone makes a pretty compelling case.
The book chronicles the nitty gritty of the development of quantum theory chapter by chapter, with each paper or important development getting explained. Stone starts with foundational work by Max Planck and others and ends his narrative after the first rush of important works at the end of the 1920s. Of course, the focus is always on the work that Einstein did, especially the significance of various of his papers such as the 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect. Important figures like Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Satyendra Nath Bose and Erwin Schrödinger get their own chapters to spotlight the part they played in quantum theory mostly from the point of view of Einstein discovering and encouraging important work. And Stone does definitely show that Einstein was there every step of the way in the early development of quantum theory, that it was his major focus and that he was making important contributions
This is an excellent book that I recommend without reservation. While it does tend to dive into the deep end of scientific detail at times, it is well worth persevering and slogging through any tough parts. Most chapters start general and get more detailed as they progress. You don’t need that much math and physics to enjoy the book, but it goes without saying that the deeper your knowledge the more you will get out of the book. Any academic library should acquire this book as should any medium-to-large public library system. It would also make a wonderful gift for the physics or science fan in your life.
Stone, A. Douglas. Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 332pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691139685
(Review copy provided by publisher.)