Early Einstein: the young physicist's papers

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume I, The Early Years: 1879-1902, edited by John Stachel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 433 pp. $52.50 cloth; English translation. 196 pp. $22.50 paperback. John Stachel and the Princeton University Press have undertaken a great task. They are collecting, ordering, and publishing the papers, notes, and letters of Albert Einstein. The first installment, ``The Early Years: 1879-1902'' of ``The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein'' is now available. The main text, called the document text, is a collection of the original documents with prefaces and footnotes. A companion volume gives an English translation by Anna Beck and Peter Havas for scholars not comfortable with German. The document text begins with a short introduction that tells the scholar and browser what is presented and how the footnotes and annotation are done. This is followed by an excerpt of a biography of Albert Einstein by his sister, which helps set the stage for the documents that follow. The documents range from his birth certificate and notes from physics lectures to letters to his girlfriend.

For scholars, the documents will be useful in detailing Einstein's life and development, gaining insight into his thinking about a variety of subjects - but mostly physics - and tracing the inception and development of relativity and his investigations into the photoelectric effect. Volume I holds some previously unpublished letters and notes from Einstein as a young man intent on understanding physics, in love with a girl (Mileva Maric), and facing all the frustrations, trials, and perplexities of Europe at the turn of the century. Einstein and his future wife were both studying physics, and their letters are a mixture of personal details, snatches of physics, and affection. Here are excerpts from the translation of one, ``Dear Miezchen!

``If you knew better your power over me, you little witch, you would not constantly be afraid that I might keep back all sorts of things from you, because this is really not my intention. I also want to tell you immediately, love, that my courage and my good cheer have not been broken at all, especially because I see from your letter that you are invariably cheerful. So today, I am going to give you a detailed report about myself because I see that you like that.

``Last week I studied electrochemistry and chemical reactions from Michele's `Ostwald,' and the electron theory of metals in the library. It's easy to explain what is setting me against Planck's considerations on the nature of radiation. Planck assumes that a completely definite kind of resonators (fixed period and damping) causes the conversion of energy to radiation, an assumption I cannot really warm up to. Maybe his new theory is more general. I intend to have a go at it. Dude's theory of electrons is a kinetic theory of electric and thermal phenomena in metals, entirely in the spirit of the kinetic theory of gases. If it only weren't for the stupid magnetism, with which we know so little what to do!...''

After finishing his discussion of his thoughts on physics, he discusses his prospects for a position in physics (not good), and his relations with others in Milan. He closes another letter with his tender regards for his ``doll.''

Occasionally in the collected texts, short editorial notes clarify the situation or subject about to be discussed in Einstein's papers. At the end of the first volume are short biographies of some of the people mentioned, a chronology of events in Einstein's life, and references. Current and future scholars will appreciate the great effort at organization and collection that have gone into this first volume. The translation in the companion volume is done with care for both the language and the physics. John Stachel and his staff are to be congratulated for a fine beginning to their task.

Paul A. Robinson Jr. is a staff scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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