One of two major books on Albert Einstein published in the past few years, Einstein’s Dreams: The Life and Universe of Albert Einstein (as well as the 1974 Hollywood version of the film), approaches the topic from different angles and with different results.
In The New York Times Book Review, the writers Nejat Seyhun and Susan Musgrave agree that Howard Gardner’s new book — which has been criticized by Gardner himself — is far and away the superior volume, even if Einstein himself was the inspiration for the Gaiman classic.
“Among the best bookworks of recent years,” they write, “it is also a nearly flawless synthesis of Albert Einstein’s thought and life.”
Their review is an important contribution to the lively debate about the book and the much more entertaining conversations about Einstein going on on social media.
The most spirited take comes from the conservative Jonah Goldberg on The National Review’s website. The two men share the same publishers, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and both are hardly moderates; thus, their arguments, which can be described as simple, bold, and moral, should be instructive to all.
Like Seyhun and Musgrave, Goldberg finds the science faultless and the book fascinating; the problem is with the self-proclaimed “summa cum laude” Nobel laureate.
Goldberg faults the author for writing before he knew the facts about his subject; he says, “How could a so-called scientific author, an avowed Marxist, possibly have so misread Einstein’s life?”
He adds, “The results are grim: lacking a command of critical thinking and style, he gives out gibberish.”
Goldberg was also involved in a funny argument over whether the conclusions about Einstein’s bad habit of sleeping on the couch during the day actually refers to his weak conversational skills.
The book’s very title, Goldberg asserts, implies that “Einstein dreamed of having powers of attraction and persuasion.”
Brennan Spiegelman of The Washington Post cautions against any “infighting” between the reviews, and says he thinks the book “also contains elegant insights into Einstein’s enthusiasm for the arts and science, his wit and depression, his cunning and humility, his theories, and his great love for his friends and colleagues.”
Nora Ephron noted the “irresistible grandeur” of the book, and approves of the author’s use of images, but says she is afraid that this image-focused approach may tend to leave the reader with an image of Einstein as a “charismatic scientist” (“which isn’t him”) and a “charismatic artist” (“which isn’t him”).
J.J. Bondi of Vox notes that Gardner “writers with the eye of an artist” who breaks down Einstein’s ideas in a way that “says the mysteries of the universe, mathematics, dreams, philosophy and science hang in the balance of our attention.” But the author quotes the critic John Seely Brown, who suggests that it is not surprising that the physicist has “an almost reverent ambivalence for his previous work,” because “for those of us who are not philosophers, we have always known him as a poet of the world.”