Saturday, November 24, 2012

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids by Jerome Pohlen

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
                                                                                              Albert Einstein
Everyone knows Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity but how much do we really know about this famous scientist and his theories? Adults and children alike will be fascinated with the details they learn about Einstein's life and his theories in Jerome Pohlen's book on Einstein. Pohlen tells Einstein's life story in a straightforward manner while also presenting simple experiments that explain some of the points of relatively and physics.

Albert and his sister Maja
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879 to nonobservant Jewish parents, Hermann and Pauline Einstein. His family moved to Munich where Albert lived until he was 15. When their electrical business failed, Hermann moved the family to Milan, Italy without Albert. Albert was not pleased about this and soon found a way to join them. He managed to gain entry into the Swiss Cantonal School of Aarau in Aarau, Switzerland in 1895. At this time of his life, Einstein wanted to renounce his German citizenship and after a period of time he managed to get his father to agree to his request. His citizenship was revoked in January, 1896.

In the fall of 1896, Albert began classes at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute, studying to be a physics teacher. However, Einstein was not a serious student. It was at this time that he met Mileva Maric, one of five students studying physics. Interestingly, Switzerland was the only German-speaking country where Mileva could apply to undertake post-high school studies.

Mileva and Albert gradually became romantically involved. She was the perfect companion for him at this age; intelligent and stimulating. When he graduated, Einstein was unable to find a job and in 1901 Mileva became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl.  It is not known what happened to this child named Leserl.

Albert and his first wife, Mileva
In 1903 Mileva and Albert married and a year later they had their second child, Hans Albert. It is amazing to see the strong resemblance Hans Albert had to his father when he was younger. You can see this for yourself by viewing the picture of Albert Einstein and his younger sister, Maja, on page 4 and that of Eduardo and Hans Albert taken in 1914 on page 60.

1905 is considered Einstein's "Miracle Year" or "Annus Mirabilus" when he published five groundbreaking papers on time, space and matter that forever changed the way we look at the universe. At this time, the Einsteins were living in Bern, Switzerland, and Albert, chronically underemployed, was working at the Patent Office as a Technical Expert, Third Class. This was a perfect situation for Einstein as he had a group of mathematicians and physicist with which he could discuss problems in theoretical physics.

Pohlen takes readers through a brief explanation of the innovative concepts in each of Einstein's five papers using examples and simple experiments. An entire chapter explains the basic concepts behind Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity while another chapter explores the ideas of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

After Einstein's ideas were published and he began to gain widespread acclaim, some began to question his theories. claiming his work was Jewish physics and others that his work was immoral because it suggested everything in the universe was relative, included morality. Amazingly, Einstein never won the Nobel Prize for relativity. Instead he won the 1921 Nobel Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect - an area of research his major detractor, German physicist, Philipp Lenard specialized in!

This book also delves into Einstein's personal life which involved him abandoning his first family for another woman, his estrangement from his oldest son, and his fleeing Germany at the outbreak of the Second World War. It also touches on Einstein and the development of the atomic bomb and his pacifist views on war, as well as his latter years. Einstein was not directly involved in the Manhattan Project, which resulted in the first a-bomb, but many of his contemporaries were.

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids is marketed as a book for children in Grades 4 to 6 but I feel that this book is probably too advanced and contains to much detail for the lower end of that group. I would suggest this book is better used for older children aged 12+ who have a keen interest in relativity and for those studying the early 20th century. Pohlen's style is readable and engaging. This is a beautiful book, with glossy pages, lots of photographs of Einstein and the major characters in his life story as well as famous scientists of this time period. The front of the book contains a timeline of important dates while the back of the book has a list of books for further study and websites and places to visit.

Interesting websites include The American Museum of Natural History and the American Institute for Physics.

Book Details:Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids by Jerome Pohlen
Chicago: Chicago Review Press 2012
126 pp.

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