How Relativity Conquered the World
The hidden story of the making of one of the twentieth century's greatest scientific theories.
Einstein’s War is the story of how Einstein built his theory of relativity in the midst of the Great War, and how relativity then spread around the world, leaping the trenches, crossing the U-boat-infested Channel and defying the jingoistic tendencies that flourished not just in the general citizenries of nations at war but in the highest echelons of scientific institutions as well. It is the story of the most unlikely of wartime partnerships – the Englishman Arthur Eddington and the German Albert Einstein – coming together to show that science could triumph over nationalism and hatred. It is also a story of the collision between intellectual struggle and armed conflict; of Karl Schwarzschild calculating in the trenches, of Eddington narrowly avoiding repeated attempts to be pressed into military duty, of Einstein working from his bed when wartime rations sank to dangerously low levels.
At its core, Einstein’s War is the story of how Einstein became an icon, thanks in large part to Eddington’s herculean efforts. The international institutions of science had been shattered by the First World War, but Eddington realized that the young German physicist’s brilliant theory of relativity could be the key to restoring exactly those networks. In 1919, when Europe was still in chaos from the war, Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse for a rare opportunity to confirm Einstein’s bold prediction that light has weight. It was the results of this expedition – the proof of relativity, as many saw it – that put Einstein on front pages around the world. The events that led to his fame would not have happened without the Great War. As Einstein’s War chronicles, his scientific revolution depended on battles both intellectual and political, fought from Berlin to London to the very edge of the universe.