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The Formative Years of Relativity:
The History and Meaning of Einstein's Princeton Lectures
Hanoch Gutfreund & Jürgen Renn

Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691174631
432 pp. | 8 x 10 | 66 halftones. 6 line illus.
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The Formative Years of Relativity in the New York Times Book Review

First published in 1922 and based on lectures delivered in May 1921, Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity offered an overview and explanation of the then new and controversial theory of relativity. The work would go on to become a monumental classic, printed in numerous editions and translations worldwide. Now, The Formative Years of Relativity introduces Einstein’s masterpiece to new audiences. This beautiful volume contains Einstein’s insightful text, accompanied by important historical materials and commentary looking at the origins and development of general relativity. Hanoch Gutfreund and Jürgen Renn provide fresh, original perspectives, placing Einstein’s achievements into a broader context for all readers.

In this book, Gutfreund and Renn tell the rich story behind the early reception, spread, and consequences of Einstein’s ideas during the formative years of general relativity in the late 1910s and 1920s. They show that relativity’s meaning changed radically throughout the nascent years of its development, and they describe in detail the transformation of Einstein’s work from the esoteric pursuit of one individual communicating with a handful of colleagues into the preoccupation of a growing community of physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, and philosophers.

This handsome edition quotes extensively from Einstein’s correspondence and reproduces historical documents such as newspaper articles and letters. Inserts are featured in the main text giving concise explanations of basic concepts, and short biographical notes and photographs of some of Einstein’s contemporaries are included. The first-ever English translations of two of Einstein’s popular Princeton lectures are featured at the book’s end.

Hanoch Gutfreund is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is also the academic director of the Albert Einstein Archives. Jürgen Renn is a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. His books include The Genesis of General Relativity.


"The authors paint a detailed but dynamic recounting of how general relativity became what it is today."--Nature Astronomy

"Gutfreund and Renn . . . combine years of Einstein scholarship with readability and insight."--Science


"Gutfreund and Renn have produced a lucid, readable, and deeply informed account of Einstein's development of relativity theory. Focusing on Einstein's 1921 trip to America and the lectures he gave there, this impressive work is invaluable for experts and lay readers. It puts Einstein's lectures in the context of the formative years of his theory and shows how, after the 1919 eclipse observations, his theory launched one of the greatest transformations in the history of science."--Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Steve Jobs

"This book successfully provides a comprehensive account of the formative years of the early development of relativity from the 1910s through to the early 1920s. It is unusual in offering an approachable treatment of relativity that also remains true to the best histories of the subject."--Richard Staley, University of Cambridge

"This book brings into focus a critical period in the development of general relativity, which Gutfreund and Renn dub the ‘formative years.' Their new material helps enliven Einstein's tremendous contributions. The work promises insights for specialists even while it remains accessible to general readers. It is a pleasure to read."--David Kaiser, author of How the Hippies Saved Physics

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