Albert Einstein and the Frontiers of Physics

By Jeremy Bernstein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Einstein's Legacy

When Einstein died in April 1955, a sense of loss was felt throughout the world. His name had become inextricably associated with the great issues of the 20th century—both its scientific triumphs and its tragedies, including the atomic bomb and the slaughter of his fellow European Jews. Einstein's picture had become as familiar as the picture of the members of one's own family. In a way, this is extremely odd. His work was understood by very few. Everyone knew that it was supposed to be extraordinarily difficult and that it had something to do with the atomic bomb. But if you had asked most people what relativity was, you would have drawn a blank. Even physicists—most physicists—regarded him almost as a historical monument, not someone who was relevant to the latest advances in the field. Unlike most of the other physicists of his generation, Einstein almost never went to physics conferences once he came to the United States. He gave occasional lectures at Princeton and attended a few seminars that interested him, but it is difficult to imagine him teaching a regular course or giving an invited talk at a large physics meeting.

This isolation was self-imposed. Apart from the fact that English was not his native language, something he had

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