Eisenstaedt, Jean 1940-

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Eisenstaedt, Jean 1940-


Born 1940.


E-mail—[email protected]


Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, France, senior researcher.



(Editor, with A.J. Kox) Studies in the History of General Relativity: Based on the Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on the History of General Relativity, Luminy, France, 1988, Birkhäuser (Boston, MA), 1992.

Einstein et la Relativité Générale: Les Chemins De l'Espace-temps, CNRS-Éditions (Paris, France), 2002.

The Universe of General Relativity, Birkhäuser (Boston, MA), 2005.

Avant Einstein: Relativité, Lumière, Gravitation, Seuil (Paris, France), 2005.

The Curious History of Relativity: How Einstein's Theory of Gravity Was Lost and Found Again, translation by Arturo Sangalli, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.


Jean Eisenstaedt is a senior researcher at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research), an institution that is connected to the Paris Observatory in France. He is also one of the world's foremost authorities on Einstein's Theory of Relativity. His book Einstein et la Relativité Générale: Les Chemins De l'Espace-temps, which won praise in the original French edition, was translated into English as The Curious History of Relativity: How Einstein's Theory of Gravity Was Lost and Found Again. The English edition was also widely praised.

The Curious History of Relativity traces the response, over a period of approximately a century, to Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. The world-renowned theoretical physicist set forth his "Special Theory of Relativity" in 1905, and his "General Theory of Relativity" in 1915. Einstein's theories were groundbreaking in that they partially disproved the long-held Three Laws of Motion formulated by Sir Isaac Newton. Einstein's Special Theory showed that Newton's Three Laws of Motion were only correct up to a point; when velocity approaches the speed of light, the laws begin to break down. The General Theory of Relativity showed that, similarly, Newton's Law of Gravitation was only somewhat correct, and that it failed to hold true when gravitational forces become extreme. There were other revolutionary aspects to Einstein's theories, including the notion that once velocity nears the speed of light, space itself contracts and time actually slows down. In formulating the General Theory of Relativity, Einstein was striving to find a way to apply his theories to the gravitational force, without the restriction that no accelerations be involved (as was the case with the Special Theory of Relativity). Although few people could really understand Einstein's complex theories, they were nevertheless rapidly accepted as truth once they were published. Yet, their prominence was soon displaced by the rising interest in quantum mechanics. When the phenomenon of black holes was discovered in the 1960s by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, Einstein's theories on relativity once again came to the fore.

The Curious History of Relativity is "written with flair," stated a reviewer for the Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal. Eisenstaedt's narrative is extremely thorough. He begins his story more than two hundred years before Einstein's birth, discussing the many scientists whose work preceded Einstein's. Eisenstaedt then moves on to a detailed description of Einstein's own work and the enthusiastic reception the physicist's theories garnered following the publication of his landmark paper in 1905. Eisenstaedt discusses the span between the 1920s and the 1950s, a period in which Einstein had to defend his theory. Theories of quantum mechanics were newly in vogue, and many physicists became deeply invested in it; others simply turned away from Einstein's theories because they were so difficult to grasp. The author sketches out Einstein's defense of his ideas. He then explains how Einstein's thought came to the fore once again after the existence of black holes became known. Eisenstaedt concludes by pondering what fate awaits Einstein's theories in the modern era, when physicists seek to formulate a theory that will bring together disparate thoughts on quantum and gravitational theory.

Reviewing The Curious History of Relativity for Library Journal, Margaret F. Dominy praised the author because he "doesn't overburden the reader" with technical data, equations, or specialized jargon. Still, Dominy noted, while an advanced degree in physics is not necessary to appreciate this book, readers would do well to have at least a basic understanding of the scientific method. She also commented that while there are many books available about Einstein and his theories, this one stands out because of the way Eisenstaedt puts the physicist and his theory of relativity into a historical context.



Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 2007, D. Park, review of The Curious History of Relativity: How Einstein's Theory of Gravity Was Lost and Found Again, p. 1360.

Isis, September, 2007, Gerald Holton, review of The Curious History of Relativity, p. 643.

Library Journal, November 1, 2006, Margaret F. Dominy, review of The Curious History of Relativity, p. 105.

Science News, November 11, 2006, review of The Curious History of Relativity, p. 319.

Times Higher Education Supplement, March 9, 2007, "Dusted Off to Revive Its Gleam," p. 24.

Times Literary Supplement, March 30, 2007, "Lights All Askew," p. 10.


Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal,http://www.cupj.ca/ (March 21, 2008), review of The Curious History of Relativity.

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