PD Smith

Seeing Further

22 January 2010 | Bryson, Einstein | One comment

Seeing FurtherMy review of Seeing Further: The Story of Science & the Royal Society, edited by Bill Bryson, is in today's Independent. It's a wonderfully eclectic collection of specially commissioned essays celebrating the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society. Among the authors are scientists (Dawkins, Steve Jones etc), historians (Simon Schaffer) and novelists (Margaret Atwood, Neal Stephenson). It's also beautifully illustrated with images from the Royal Society's collection. I was particularly struck by a reproduction of the title page of Einstein's 1917 popularization of relativity, On the Special and General Theory of Relativity. It is signed by Einstein who had sent it to his friend, the Berlin physician Hans Mühsam. On it, Mühsam has written (in German):

"This copy is the first one which left the printer. It was sent to me by Prof Einstein the moment he had received it, and shortly before I went to France with the army. Hans Mühsam, Berlin, at present at the French Front, April 1917."

The idea of Mühsam taking this copy of Einstein's book with him to the hell of the trenches in the First World War is deeply moving. It speaks volumes about the power of scientific ideas.

You can see the title page of Einstein's book here and read my review here.

One comment so far:

  1. Paul Halpern | 25 January 2010

    Great review - sounds like a fascinating volume. The founding of the Royal Society represented such a pivotal era for the history of science. Here in the US, the American Philosophical Society would be founded some eight decades later, emulating the free discussion that took place at Royal Society meetings. Amazing to read about the book going to the trenches. There is at least one other case, though I don't believe it was a signed copy. Karl Schwarzschild developed what became the black hole solution of general relativity while serving in the German army during the First World War.

Leave a Reply

Name (required)
Mail (will not be published) (required)