Neffe, Jürgen 1956–
Neffe, Jürgen 1956–
Home— Berlin, Germany.
Writer and journalist. Affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Science History, Berlin, Germany.
Egon Erwin Kisch Award for journalistic work.
Einstein: Eine Biographie, Rowohlt (Reinbek, Germany), 2005, expanded version translated by Shelley Frisch published as Einstein: A Biography, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Jürgen Neffe is a writer and journalist; he is also a winner of Germany's most prestigious journalism award, the Egon Erwin Kisch Award. His first book is Einstein: A Biography. Albert Einstein is best known for his theory of relativity and may have been the first physicist to capture the general public's imagination. Neffe's biography of Einstein was first published in Germany in 2005. The U.S. edition, an expanded version translated by Shelley Frisch, offers, according to Washington Post contributor Michael Dirda, a "zingy, dramatic style—for which we must offer congratulations to his translator."
In his biography of Einstein, Neffe uses documents such as letters Einstein wrote to his first wife, Mileva, and to his sons, Hans Albert and Eduard. The author takes advantage of the newly released diaries of Janos Plesch, who was Einstein's physician in Berlin. The biography delves into both the personal and scientific life of Einstein. Neffe explores much of Einstein's work in theoretical physics, including the Theory of Relativity, the Unified Theory, and his theoretical work on gravity. The author also discusses the early influences on Einstein's scientific work, such as Aaron Bernstein's Popular Books on Natural Science, which was published in twenty volumes. Dirda wrote in the Washington Post that the author "seems to have actually gone and read the books themselves, citing Bernstein more than fifteen times, by volume and page number." Further, Dirda added: "He reveals through exact quotation how much Einstein's later formulations about gravity, light and space-time echo actual sentences from a child's introduction to the wonders of science." John Horgan, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, also noted: "Neffe is … adept at explaining Einstein's influence on modern researchers, including string theorists, cosmologists, and explorers of the oddities of quantum mechanics."
In addition to his scientific work, Neffe pays special attention to the Einstein who did not do especially well in school, who fled to the United States from Nazi Germany, and who was put under surveillance by the U.S. government for his potential ties to communism. In the process, the author does not ignore Einstein's shortcomings. Noting that, while Einstein had a far-reaching vision for theoretical physics and its possibilities to accurately determine the true nature of matter and even of reality, Neffe also delves into Einstein's psychological makeup, especially concerning his relationship with women. Neffe points out such flaws as his getting a classmate pregnant in school and ultimately rejecting the mother after the child's death. Einstein also had an affair with a Soviet spy late in life. Chronicle of Higher Education contributor Horgan wrote that the author "treats his subject with a brusqueness that Einstein himself might have appreciated."
The author also relates Einstein's thoughts about politics and world affairs, such as his early pacifism countered by his later urgings to President Franklin Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb before Germany did during World War II. He also explores Einstein's early reaction against the hunt for communist sympathizers in the early 1950s conducted by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, considered by many a demagogue who used Senate hearings for his own aggrandizement while costing many people their jobs and reputations. Although Einstein was one of the first to speak out against McCarthy, he faced vilification, but was later proved right when McCarthy was censured by the Senate and the hearings came to be considered little more than witch hunts. Einstein was also ahead of his time in advocating such things as sex education, abortion, and the rights of homosexuals and minorities.
Einstein received praise from numerous reviewers. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "creates a fascinating portrait." Calling the biography "a comprehensive, sympathetic and very readable portrait," a Kirkus Reviews contributor went on to note that "stellar research and prose combine in a splendid biography."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biography, summer, 2007, Dan Falk and Lee Smolin, review of Einstein: A Biography.
Chronicle of Higher Education, May 4, 2007, John Horgan, "Toward a Unified Theory of Einstein's Life," and review of Einstein.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2007, review of Einstein.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2007, review of Einstein, p. 77.
Science News, August 4, 2007, review of Einstein, p. 79.
Washington Post, April 15, 2007, Michael Dirda, "Part Genius, Part Holy Man: The Life behind Science's Most Beautiful Mind," p. BW10.