The Best Books on Albert Einstein and Books he Recommended Reading
There are countless books on Albert Einstein, and it comes with good reason, after all, he is widely acknowledged as being one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Perhaps best known for developing the theory of relativity and making important contributions to the development of quantum mechanics, we’ve curated a list of amazing reads that seek to rationalize the complex inner workings of this historic physicist.
Long before his brilliance unfolded upon a global stage, and shortly after graduating from college, a 23-year-old Einstein was working for minimum wage in a Swiss patent office. That’s about the time when he and some newfound friends, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht, formed an informal weekly discussion group to which they gave the grandiloquent name “Olympia Academy.”
Over drinks and cigars, these young lads discussed intellectually thrilling ideas ranging from philosophy to physics to whatever topics could be pondered in between. Even after the club broke up a few years later, Einstein said it influenced many of his theories. Thus, we’ve included in this guide to his book recommendations many of the texts that played a foundational role in shaping the way we now view our place amongst the grand scheme of the universe.
Keep in mind, as your own genius continues blossoming in the pursuit of life’s truths, Einstein did once famously caution that “reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
Nonetheless, reading clearly played a profound role in molding Albert Einstein as a person, and furthermore, this favorite educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and scientifically groundbreaking for that matter – approach he took to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired who is arguably humanity’s smartest man to the pinnacle of scientific success, we’ve compiled a list that starts with 5 books on Albert Einstein and ends with 10 books that he read himself and would certainly recommend to others as well.
Einstein by Walter Isaacson
How did Albert Einstein’s mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson’s biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.
Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk – a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn’t get a teaching job or a doctorate – became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom, and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.
These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.
Einstein 1905 by John S. Rigden
For Albert Einstein, 1905 was a remarkable year. It was also a miraculous year for the history and future of science. In six short months, from March through September of that year, Einstein published five papers that would transform our understanding of nature. This unparalleled period is the subject of John Rigden’s book, which deftly explains what distinguishes 1905 from all other years in the annals of science, and elevates Einstein above all other scientists of the twentieth century.
Rigden chronicles the momentous theories that Einstein put forth beginning in March 1905: his particle theory of light, rejected for decades but now a staple of physics; his overlooked dissertation on molecular dimensions; his theory of Brownian motion; his theory of special relativity; and the work in which his famous equation, E = mc2, first appeared. Through his lucid exposition of these ideas, the context in which they were presented, and the impact they had – and still have – on society, Rigden makes the circumstances of Einstein’s greatness thoroughly and captivatingly clear.
One hundred years after Einstein’s prodigious accomplishment, this book invites us to learn about ideas that have influenced our lives in almost inconceivable ways, and to appreciate their author’s status as the standard of greatness in twentieth-century science.
Einstein on Politics by David Rowe and Robert Schulmann
The most famous scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein was also one of the century’s most outspoken political activists. Deeply engaged with the events of his tumultuous times, from the two world wars and the Holocaust, to the atomic bomb and the Cold War, to the effort to establish a Jewish homeland, Einstein was a remarkably prolific political writer, someone who took courageous and often unpopular stands against nationalism, militarism, anti-Semitism, racism, and McCarthyism.
In Einstein on Politics, leading Einstein scholars David Rowe and Robert Schulmann gather Einstein’s most important public and private political writings and put them into historical context. The book reveals a little-known Einstein – not the ineffectual and naive idealist of popular imagination, but a principled, shrewd pragmatist whose stands on political issues reflected the depth of his humanity.
Nothing encapsulates Einstein’s profound involvement in twentieth-century politics like the atomic bomb. Here we read the former militant pacifist’s 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning that Germany might try to develop an atomic bomb. But the book also documents how Einstein tried to explain this action to Japanese pacifists after the United States used atomic weapons to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that spurred Einstein to call for international control of nuclear technology.
The Born-Einstein Letters by Albert Einstein and Max Born
A classic collection of correspondence between two Nobel Prize winners, The Born-Einstein Letters is also highly topical: scientists continue to struggle with quantum physics, their role in wartime, and the public’s misunderstanding.
The World As I See It by Albert Einstein
Among the best books on Albert Einstein is none other than one written by the man himself. To the majority of people, Einstein’s theory is a complete mystery. Their attitude towards Einstein is like that of Mark Twain towards the writer of a work on mathematics: here was a man who had written an entire book of which Mark could not understand a single sentence. Einstein, therefore, is great in the public eye partly because he has made revolutionary discoveries which cannot be translated into the common tongue.
We stand in proper awe of a man whose thoughts move on heights far beyond our range, whose achievements can be measured only by the few who are able to follow his reasoning and challenge his conclusions. There is, however, another side to his personality. It is revealed in the addresses, letters, and occasional writings brought together in this book.
These fragments form a mosaic portrait of Einstein the man. Each one is, in a sense, complete in itself; it presents his views on some aspect of progress, education, peace, war, liberty, or other problems of universal interest. Their combined effect is to demonstrate that the Einstein we can all understand is no less great than the Einstein we take on trust.
Albert Einstein Book Recommendations
Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes
Don Quixote has become so entranced reading tales of chivalry that he decides to turn knight errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, these exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote’s fancy often leads him astray – he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants – Sancho acquires cunning and a certain sagacity. Sane madman and wise fool, they roam the world together-and together they have haunted readers’ imaginations for nearly four hundred years.
With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote has been generally recognized as the first modern novel. This Penguin Classics edition, with its beautiful new cover design, includes John Rutherford’s masterly translation, which does full justice to the energy and wit of Cervantes’s prose, as well as a brilliant critical introduction by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarriá.
Source: Leopold Infeld, who worked with Einstein, wrote in his autobiography The Quest about how much Einstein loved Cervantes’s classic tale of the chivalrous knight Don Quixote, “Einstein lay in bed without shirt or pajamas, with Don Quixote on his night table. It is the book which he enjoys most and likes to read for relaxation…”
A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume
Published in the mid-18th century and received with indifference (it “fell dead-born from the press,” noted the author), David Hume’s comprehensive three-volume A Treatise of Human Nature has withstood the test of time and has had enormous impact on subsequent philosophical thought. Hume – whom Kant famously credited with having “interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction” – intended this work as an observationally grounded study of human nature. He employed John Locke’s empiric principles, constructing a theory of knowledge to serve as a foundation for the evaluation of metaphysical ideas.
Reprinted here in one volume, the Treatise begins with an examination of the nature of ideas: their origins and connections, modes and substance, and abstract qualities. The work’s considerations of existence, knowledge, and identity explore the ways in which people use these concepts as a basis for firm but unproven beliefs. The second part surveys the passions, from pride and humility to contempt and respect, analyzing their roles in human choices and actions. The book concludes with a meditation on morals and an in-depth explanation of the perceived distinctions between virtue and vice.
One of philosophy’s most important works and a key to modern studies of 18th-century Western thought, A Treatise of Human Nature is essential reading for all students of philosophy and history.
Source: By his own admission, this book by an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, that looked to understand the link between science and human nature, had a big influence on Einstein.
Hume’s accomplishment of articulating a scientifically moral philosophy appealed to the physicist as did the book’s call to move from metaphysical speculation towards facts you can observe, reports Big Think. There was also an important caveat to this, according to Hume, that observation alone cannot grasp the laws of nature. This implication had a profound impact on the development of Einstein’s counter-intuitive ideas.
Isis Unveiled by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
ISIS Unveiled was H.P. Blavatsky’s first major literary effort, a critical response to the growing materialism in both scientific and religious institutions, and a vindication of the ageless quest. In the author’s words, Isis “is the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science…they showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man’s spirit may be demonstrated.”
Supported by extensive evidence from religious and mystical traditions, classical scholarship, and the testimony of nature, these volumes aid the student in detecting the vital principles which underlie the philosophical systems of old. Volume I focuses on the prevailing scientific theories of the time, balanced against the “anciently universal Wisdom Religion,” while Volume II examines the creeds of religions past and present, alongside the myths and symbols of various cultures.
Throughout, the author strikes at the root of dogma and affirms the “paramount importance of re-establishing the Hermetic philosophy in a world which blindly believes it has outgrown it.
Source: Listed among his favorite books, Albert Einstein appreciated Blavatsky’s perspective.
The Brothers Karamasov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamasov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the “wicked and sentimental” Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons – the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy, red-cheeked young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the whole of Russian life, it’s social and spiritual striving, in what was both the golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture.
Set in 19th-century Russia, the book a passionate philosophical novel that enters deeply into questions of God, free will, and morality. It is a theological drama dealing with problems of faith, doubt and reason in the context of a modernizing Russia, with a plot that revolves around the subject of patricide. Dostoevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which inspired the main setting. It has been acclaimed as one of the supreme achievements in world literature.
Source: Out of all the world’s books, Albert Einstein considered The Brothers Karamazov to be “the supreme summit of all literature” and said that he had learned more from Dostoevsky than any other thinker.
The Analysis of Sensations by Ernst Mach
Insisting that sensation constitutes the data for all science, physical and psychological, Mach articulated an early form of scientific positivism that provided Kulpe and Titchener with an epistemological framework for their emerging views. Conceiving of space and time not as Kantian categories but as the immediate data of experience, Mach also helped lay the groundwork for the Gestaltists’ later recognition of the phenomenal status of extension and duration.
“The biological task of science is to provide the fully developed human individual with as perfect a means of orientating himself as possible,” Mach writes. “No other scientific ideal can be realized, and any other must be meaningless.”
Source: Mach’s principle, in cosmology, hypothesis that the inertial forces experienced by a body in nonuniform motion are determined by the quantity and distribution of matter in the universe. It was so called by Albert Einstein after the 19th-century Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach.
Ethics by Baruch Spinoza
A profoundly beautiful and uniquely insightful description of the universe, Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics is one of the masterpieces of Enlightenment-era philosophy. This Penguin Classics edition is edited and translated from the Latin by Edwin Curley, with an introduction by Stuart Hampshire.
Published shortly after his death, the Ethics is undoubtedly Spinoza’s greatest work – an elegant, fully cohesive cosmology derived from first principles, providing a coherent picture of reality, and a guide to the meaning of an ethical life. Following a logical step-by-step format, it defines in turn the nature of God, the mind, the emotions, human bondage to the emotions, and the power of understanding – moving from a consideration of the eternal, to speculate upon humanity’s place in the natural order, the nature of freedom and the path to attainable happiness.
A powerful work of elegant simplicity, the Ethics is a brilliantly insightful consideration of the possibility of redemption through intense thought and philosophical reflection.
Source: Einstein agreed with Spinoza’s idea of God, replying to a telegram from a Rabbi Goldstein, “I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, and critic. His works include plays, poetry, literature, and aesthetic criticism, and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour. He is considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era.
Source: Einstein kept a bust of Goethe and was known to quote the writer to his German-speaking assistants. In a 1932 letter to Leopold Casper, Einstein wrote that he admire Goethe as “a poet without peer, and as one of the smartest and wisest men of all time.” He added that, “even his scholarly ideas deserve to be held in high esteem, and his faults are those of any great man.”
A System of Logic by John Stuart Mill
A System of Logic, in two volumes, was published in 1843. Book VI is Mill’s attempt to formulate a logic of the human sciences – including history, psychology, and sociology – based on casual explanation conceived in Humean terms.
Source: At about the time he started his job in the patent office in Bern in 1902, Einstein and some newfound friends, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht, formed an informal weekly discussion group to which they gave the grandiloquent name “Olympia Academy.” Thanks to Solovine, we know that they read A System of Logic.
Science and Hypothesis by Henry Poincare
Science and Hypothesis is a study written in 1902, by the French mathematician, Henri Poincaré. It was designed with non-specialist readers in mind, and contains information on mathematics, space, physics and biology. The main theme of this work is that the absolute truth of science is non-existent. It postulates that many scientific beliefs are closer to convenient conventions than valid explanations.
Source: Derived from the list of Olympia Academy books, Albert Einstein particularly enjoyed this read.
None by B. Kovner
Jacob Adler, a Yiddish humorist whose contributions under the name of B. Kovner were a regular feature of The Jewish Daily Forward wrote a dozen books, 18,000 poems, numerous plays, and more than” 30,000 humorous articles.
Source: Einstein loved reading Adler’s funny stories during the last months of his life.
The Grammar of Science by Karl Pearson
Published in 1892, The Grammar of Science argues that the scientific method is essentially descriptive rather than explanatory.
Source: Derived from the list of Olympia Academy books, Albert Einstein recommended this read to the group.
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