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“‘Why is it that no one understands me and everyone likes me?’ Einstein wondered. His appeal lay in his supposed incomprehensibility. Charlie Chaplin got it: ‘They cheer me because they all understand me,’ he remarked, accompanying the theoretical physicist to a film premiere, ‘and they cheer you because no one understands you.’
Several new books mark the centenary of the 1919 eclipse observations. Though their aims diverge, they all to some degree capture the likeness of Einstein the man, messy personal life and all, while rendering his physics a little bit more comprehensible to the rest of us. Each successfully negotiates the single besetting difficulty facing books of this sort — namely the way science approaches its own history. Scientific findings are often best explained as stories of discovery: emollient tales of how one or two figures unwove a complex problem, and in doing so brought human understanding closer to the truth of things. This has the huge advantage of making extremely complicated ideas comprehensible, by building them up brick by brick. Of course, it’s a terrible way to write history.
Historians, meanwhile, show how the business of science is as contingent and dramatic as any other human activity. They give us a much clearer, more inclusive, more humane view of what science actually is. If you want to understand what the science has revealed, however, you’d best steer clear of their nuanced accounts, full of thwarted ambitions, contested theories, doubts and contingencies.”
JJ Editor's Picks
"Venice's misfortunes never seem to stop. The popular tourist destination has been hit by the worst flooding in 50 years this week, resulting in damage worth hundreds of millions of euros. Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said a state of..."
"Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) must be feeling pretty good this week, if by "good" one means "proven right in an allegation anyone of good conscience must always hope will be proven wrong." Omar caught flak earlier this year for calling White House..."
"It was when I found myself perched on our rooftop at dawn in my pajamas, coating the asphalt shingles with Mongolian Hot Oil, that I first wondered whether I had lost perspective. The woodpeckers had forced my hand. Every morning that June, one..."
"Forty-nine years after she died of a heroin overdose at age 27, rock’s doomed diva is on the road again. “A Night With Janis Joplin,” a musical homage to the psychedelic era and its favorite blues singer, returned to its Bay Area roots in mid..."
"The Democratic candidates for President are promising a smorgasbord of new taxes, but why wait until 2021? Last week Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Virginia Congressman Don Beyer unveiled the Millionaires Surtax Act, a plan to soak the..."
"The streaming wars were already heated, but a new combatant is entering the arena: the Walt Disney Company. Mickey Mouse may be a friendly corporate icon. But the new Disney Plus streaming service could have a decidedly unfriendly impact..."
"Netanyahu’s last resort in a bid to avoid facing a courtroom would be requesting a pardon from President Reuven Rivlin, pending the recommendation of the attorney general. A knowledgeable source close to the senior echelons of the state...."
"There’s a TikTok that’s just a boy saying, “I may be ugly, but at least I’m also … dumb and annoying.” Then he dances while Ariana Grande’s “Successful” plays. It’s extremely funny, and a little bit sad, and I think about it every day. Kids on..."