"I find the idea quite intolerable that an electron exposed to radiation should choose of its own free will, not only its moment to jump off, but also its direction. In that case, I would rather be a cobbler, or even an employee in a gaming house, than a physicist." -Albert Einstein
A scandal hovers over the history of 20th century physics. Albert Einstein -- the century's greatest physicist -- was never able to come to terms with quantum mechanics, the century's greatest theoretical achievement. For physicists who routinely use both quantum laws and Einstein's ideas, this contradiction can be almost too embarrassing to dwell on. Yet Einstein was one of the founders of quantum physics and he spent many years preaching the quantum's importance and its revolutionary nature.
The Danish genius Neils Bohr was another founder of quantum physics. He had managed to solve one of the few physics problems that Einstein ever shied away from, linking quantum mathematics with a new model of the atom. This leap immediately yielded results that explained electron behavior and the periodic table of the elements.
Despite their mutual appreciation of the quantum's importance, these two giants of modern physics never agreed on the fundamentals of their work. In fact, they clashed repeatedly throughout the 1920s, arguing first over Einstein's theory of "light quanta"(photons), then over Niels Bohr's short-lived theory that denied the conservation of energy at the quantum level, and climactically over the new quantum mechanics that Bohr enthusiastically embraced and Einstein stubbornly defied.
This contest of visions stripped the scientific imagination naked. Einstein was a staunch realist, demanding to know the physical reasons behind physical events. At odds with this approach was Bohr's more pragmatic perspective that favored theories that worked, even if he might not have a corresponding explanation of the underlying reality. Powerful and illuminating, Einstein Defiant is the first book to capture the soul and the science that inspired this dramatic duel, revealing the personalities and the passions -- and, in the end, what was at stake for the world.
Named to Science Books & Films 2004 Best Popular Science Books list
"Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr go mano a mano in this classic PWWF (Physicists World Wrestling Federation) smackdown."
-- San Diego Union Tribune, February 22, 2004
"[A] tender, insightful book ... Bolles has written the best popular account I know of this central episode in 20th-century thought: the intense struggles between Einstein and other physicists--especially the kindly, shambling, yet brilliantly dogged Niels Bohr--about whether the universe could really be constructed with 'gaps' in direct causality at its very core."
-- David Bodanis in the Washington Post Book World, January 30, 2005
"By jolting the reader around in spacetime, Bolles' nonlinear history produces vivid impressions of times, places and personalities. Moreover, Bolles manages to describe developments in physics with imaginative analogies and contrasts (wave packets as bulges moving through a bullwhip, or the orbit-jumping electron of the Bohr theory as the ghost of Hamlet's father -- it's here, it's there, it's nowhere in between). Although equation-avoidance is standard policy in semi-popular science writing, it frequently fails because one well-placed equation may be worth more than a thousand words. Nevertheless, the policy works here because Bolles blends his analogies seamlessly into the historical vignettes around which he weaves his story. ... Bolles stays true to the physics while keeping the images lively (and his readers awake). ... All in all, this is a delightful book. It succeeds admirably in capturing the spirit of the people, the times, the science and the intellectual passion that marked the rise of quantum physics."
-- Nature, July 8, 2004
"[Bolles] excels in giving a lively picture of the person [Einstein] and his times. ...A good story. ... Bolles describes the history of the ideas and the main participants in fascinating detail. He follows Einstein's life almost week by week, with tremendous attention to his character and the personal decisions he had to make. In comparison with previous biographies on Einstein, Einstein Defiant gives a much more vivid picture of the drama. ... I believe I understand Einstein and his unique personality much better after reading Bolles's book. It illuminates a bygone era when the greatest revolution in physics took place."
-- Physics Today, April 2005
"Bolles intertwines a rich combination of scientific explanation and literary drama, painting a picture of Einstein's persona, the European mind-set, and the soap opera of quantum physics."
-- Scientific American, January 2005
"...if you're an Einstein fan and/or a mathematician, you'll find [this book] interesting."
-- Mensa Bulletin, July 2004
"Einstein Defiant is a roller-coaster ride through the tumultuous three decades at the start of the last century. ... A multitude of famous scientists, now immortalized in physics and chemistry textbooks for the effects they discovered, swirl through the pages, bringing perspective and context to the battle of the intellect between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, the chief protagonists, but also old friends of many years. ... The author, Edmund Bolles, could hardly have chosen a more complex scientific landscape. Scientists today are still puzzling over both relativity and quantum physics, but Bolles exhibits a flair for explaining the relevant material and bringing it to life against a background of complex social, political, and scientific issues. This carefully researched book achieves a nice balance between science and history. The author provides enough scientific information to illuminate the unfolding drama for nonscientists and constructs a marvelously choreographed tale of how just about every physicist of note in the last century contributed to the debate."
-- Science Books & Films, September/October 2004
"Bolles conjures up the lost world of Europe between the wars, an era when readers would snatch up newspapers with Einstein's latest paper printed on the front page. In addition to his flair for bringing to life the cultural background of Einstein and Bohr's scientific battle, Bolles exhibits a marvelous facility in explaining the intricacies of relativity and the world inside the atom. Readers who can never keep the three B's--Bohr, Born and de Broglie--straight will know what their roles were in 20th-century physics by the end of the book, which is highly recommended for science buffs as well as readers of biography and cultural history."
-- Publishers Weekly, February 23, 2004
"...this book frames Einstein's career in historical facets that I haven't seen explored before: his personal bouts with nationalism, politics, family, love affairs, etc... Heady stuff for a book about Einstein. ...Edmund Blair Bolles writes with the subtle sensibilities of a novelist. That is not to say he embellishes every narrative turn with drama and poetry, but that he's damn good writer, and it's difficult to stop reading this book when the teakettle whistles or the phone rings. His prose is clear, engaging, and often lyrical where other such books are not. So, before you pass judgment on whether a new book about Einstein is needed, skim Einstein Defiant, and find a story like you've never read before."
-- frontwheeldrive.com, September 2004
"...[a] well-written book. [Bolles] goes into considerable detail on the long debate between Einstein and Bohr, and he offers some interesting anecdotes and stories about their meetings. ... Bolles does a good job of telling the story... he gives some interesting insights."
-- CHOICE, October 2004
"Bolles' book is colorful, readable, and well explains Einstein's reservations about quantum mechanics."
-- Library Journal, March 1, 2004
"A captivating, meticulous account of the history of scientific discovery, theory, extrapolation, and the intellectual human beings who spearheaded opposing schools of thought."
-- Talk About Network / MBR: The Science Shelf and The Bookwatch, June 2, 2004
"[This] is a truly enjoyable book, easily readable, and definitely interesting for various reasons: it allows the reader to almost feel the excitement and the puzzles that the new quantum theory was providing to those involved in its development, it gives a beautiful description of both Bohr's and Einstein's personalities and ways of thinking, and shows physics at its best as it really is: an intellectual adventure played by human beings in a human context, with all that this implies."
-- Mathematical Reviews, 2005
"Excellent history of Albert Einstein's criticism of Quantum theory and his debates with the originators of this theory, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Max Born. The author also presents interesting descriptions of Germany's post World War I political and social culture which Einstein and his colleagues struggled with."
-- Gifted Education News-Page, November 2004
"...presents the science and the human element behind the Albert Einstein-Niels Bohr debate over the merits and validity of quantum mechanics. The author delves into the discussions and debates between the two as Einstein resisted quantum mechanics and Bohr rejected the conservation of energy at the quantum level."
-- Dallas Morning News, August 2
"...well researched... [Einstein Defiant] is written for the interested layman, and isn't so technical that you can't follow it. Highly recommended."
"Bolles has put a brilliant spotlight on one of the central philosophical questions confronting the physical sciences. The debate between Einstein and Bohr, portrayed with dramatic personal texture in a historical context, continues to this day. Relativity and quantum theory are presented in a manner that enlightens the reader without intimidating the nonspecialist. The leading physicists of the early 20th century are brought vividly to life through Bolles' sharing of their all too human foibles."
"Bolles offers a flowing analysis of the debate over quantum mechanics between Einstein and fellow physicist Niels Bohr, and how this "quarrel" was a fundamental turning point in scientific thought."
-- Tampa Tribune, April 18, 2005
"Meticulously researched, engagingly written and scientifically enlightening. The quantum revolution as viewed through the thoughts of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, and other giants of early 20th century physics. A remarkable integration of science, politics and history."
-- Robert L. Wolke, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh and author of What Einstein Told His Cook
"One of the nation's pre-eminent science writers has done it again. With verve and originality, Blair Bolles brings us inside Einstein's 'nearly perfect scientific imagination.' The details are rich, the analogies enlightening, the overall effect transformative. Einstein Defiant is a masterful work."
-- Robin Marantz Henig, author of Pandora's Baby and The Monk in the Garden
"A terrific inside-baseball account of the intellectual battles of the 1920s, from which arose modern quantum mechanics."
-- John Derbyshire, author of Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
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