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Walter Isaacson Discusses 'Einstein'

As the former managing editor of <em>Time</em> magazine, author Walter Isaacson discovered his fascination with Einstein while researching possible candidates for the magazine's "Person of the Century."
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As the former managing editor of Time magazine, author Walter Isaacson discovered his fascination with Einstein while researching possible candidates for the magazine's "Person of the Century."
Physicist Albert Einstein plays the violin at Princeton University in 1931.  Isaacson says that it was Einstein's creativity, not his mathematical genius, that led him to his great discoveries.
/ AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
Physicist Albert Einstein plays the violin at Princeton University in 1931. Isaacson says that it was Einstein's creativity, not his mathematical genius, that led him to his great discoveries.

Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

In Walter Isaacson's bestseller Einstein, based on private papers released last year, the author handily explains the theories of the 20th century's most influential scientist. But his true subject is how the man's mind worked.

It was Albert Einstein's tendency to rebel that was the source of his great creativity, Isaacson says — and his real genius was his ability to focus on mundane things that most people overlook.

Isaacson also tells of Einstein's all-too-human qualities: his passionate affair with and messy divorce from his first wife, his ability to shut out his children, his evolving relationship with Judaism and his steadfast belief in God.

Isaacson's three previous books are also about men who have made their marks on history: His affectionate 2003 biography Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, another bestseller, is widely considered the most readable book ever written on our eldest founding father. He was co-author of the 1986 book The Wise Men, on the architects of America's postwar foreign policy.

And after 1992's Kissinger, a mixed appraisal of the former secretary of state, Isaacson resolved two things:

"Anybody I'd write about from then on would be dead, so I didn't have to deal with them again," he says. "And, secondly, it was going to be somebody ... that I kind of liked ...."

In addition to his books, Isaacson runs the Aspen Institute and writes an international column for Time magazine. Before that, he was head of CNN and managing editor of Time. It was there, when he began researching possible candidates for the magazine's "Person of the Century," that he discovered his fascination with Einstein — who turned out to be by far "the most interesting person I've ever looked at."

This reading of Einstein took place in April 2007 at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Linda Kulman
Linda Kulman, the editor of NPR.org’s weekly feature Book Tour, is an avid reader, veteran journalist and writer living in Washington, D.C. She worked as a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report for a decade, where she reported for every section of the magazine. Most recently, she covered religion and consumer culture. Kulman’s book reviews have appeared in The Washington Post and on NPR.org. She has collaborated on four non-fiction books, working with a variety of notable figures. Early on in her career, she worked for several years as a fact checker at The New Yorker. Kulman also earned a degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.