Albert Einstein, born in Ulm in Germany in 1879, was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, and nearly 2000 books have been written about him. Astonishingly, he came up with a number of his groundbreaking ideas—including his theory of special relativity—in 1905, when he was working in Switzerland as a patent clerk.
We've interviewed the authors of two Einstein biographies, Andrew Robinson and Walter Isaacson, about which books to read to learn more about him, and you'll see their book recommendation interviews below. Robinson is an experienced science writer, Isaacson a biographer (who also wrote a fantastic biography of Steve Jobs) so that may affect which book and/or interview you turn to first.
Because of Einstein's importance to physics, books about him come up again and again across Five Books. One of our most highly recommended books is the biography of him by Abraham Pais, Subtle is the Lord. Bear in mind though, that this is a scientific biography, so if your knowledge of physics and relativity is shaky, it's probably not the best place to start.
"The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility…The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle"—Albert Einstein
Also viewed as essential are the Born-Einstein Letters, which detail debates about quantum mechanics between two of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, Einstein and his friend Max Born—a debate that continues to this day.
Albert Einstein also of course wrote books himself, including his book Relativity, intended for a popular audience. While fascinating to dip into, Relativity is quite hard to follow as a lay person, so secondary accounts of his great theory are probably better to get you started. As Dan Hooper, science popularizer and Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, put it, “If somebody asked me for a book to learn about relativity, I probably wouldn’t pick Einstein’s." Instead, he recommends Black Holes and Time Warps by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Kip Thorne, as the best book to get started with understanding relativity.
Also recommended on Five Books is Driving Mr Albert, an extraordinary story about what happened to Einstein’s brain after he died.
Andrew Robinson, author of a biography of Albert Einstein, picks and talks through the five best Albert Einstein books and discusses the life and times of the ‘unique genius.’
The former editor of Time magazine and CEO of CNN talks to us about the life and work of Albert Einstein, including the bet with his wife that left her with his Nobel Prize money and him with a divorce.