Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and the Theories of Relativity




Works in English

Non-Scientific Works


Historiographical Review: Einstein in His Times


Origins of Relativity Theories

Reception of Relativity Theories

Other Studies

Advanced Interpretation

Popularizations of the Theories

Introduction to the Science


Boni, Nell, Monique Russ, and Dan H. Lawrence. A Bibliographical Checklist and Index to the Published Writings of Albert Einstein. Paterson, N. J.: Pageant Books, 1960.

Klein, Martin J., and Alklan Needell. “Some Unnoticed Publications by Einstein,” Isis 68 (1978): 601-604.

Shields, Margaret C., comp. “Bibliography of the Writings of Albert Einstein to May 1951,” pp. 689-760, vol. 2 in Paul A. Schlipp, ed., Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, 1st ed. 1951. New York: Harper & Brothers, Torchbook ed., 1959.

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The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. Vol. 1: The Early Years, 1879-1902; Vol. 2: The Swiss Years: Writings, 1900-1909; Vol. 3: The Swiss Years: Writings, 1909-1911; Vol. 4: The Swiss Years: Writings, 1912-1914; Vol. 5: The Swiss Years: Correspondence, 1902-1914. Vol 6: The Berlin Years: Writings, 1914-1917. Vols. 1-2, John Stachel, editor. Vol. 3, Martin J. Klein, A. J. Kox, Jürgen Renn, and Robert Schulmann, editors. Vol. 4. Martin J. Klein, A. J. Kox, Jürgen Renn, and Robert Schulmann, editors. Vol. 5, Martin J. Klein, A. J. Kox, and Robert Schulmann, editors. Vol. 6, A. J. Knox, Martin J. Klein, and Robert Schulmann, editors. Continuing series. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987-<1996>.

English translations: Vols. 1-2, Anna Beck, translator, Peter Havas, consultant; Vols. 3, 4, 5, Anna Beck, translator, Don Howard, consultant. Continuing series. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987-<1996>.

Einstein, Albert, and Michele Besso. Correspondence, 1903-1955. Edited by Pierre Speziali. (Collection Histoire de la Pensée, XVII.) Paris: Hermann, 1972.

Einstein, Albert, and Max Born. The Born-Einstein Letters. correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born from 1916-1955. Commentaries by Max Born. Translated from the German by Irene Born. London: Macmillan, 1971.

Einstein, Albert, and Mileva Maric. Albert Einstein / Mileva Maric: The Love Letters. Edited and with an introduction by Jürgen Renn and Robert Schulmann. Translated by Shawn Smith. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Lettres à Maurice Solovine. Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1956.

Albert Einstein in Berlin, 1913-1933. Volume I: Darstellung und Dokumente. Volume II: Spezialinventar. Christa Kirsten and Hans-Jurgen Treder, Editors. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1979.

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Works in English

“Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper,” Annalen der Physik, 17 (1905), 891-921; translated into English and reprinted in H. A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, H. Minkowski, H. Weyl, The Principle of Relativity: A Collection of Original Memoirs on the Special and General Theory of Relativity. Notes by A. Sommerfeld, 1st ed. 1923. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., n.d. Paper edition. More recent translations follow.

“How I Created the Theory of Relativity.” Physics Today

Translated summary of Einstein’s talk at Kyoto University, Japan, December 14, 1922. The most extensive autobiographical reconstruction, closest to the events, of his intellectual path to special relativity. Not included in other collections of Einstein’s writings. See the discussion by Tsuyoshi Ogawa, “Japanese Evidence…,” below.

Miller, Arthur I. Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905-1911). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1981.

Schwartz, H. M. “Einstein’s First Paper on Relativity,” American Journal of Physics 45 (1977): 18-25.

Translation with annotations.

“Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitatstheorie,” Annalen der Physik, 49 (1916), 769-822; translated into English and reprinted in The Principle of Relativity: Original Papers by A, Einstein and H. Minkowski. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1920.

Über die Spezielle und die allgemeine relativitatstheorie, Gemeinverstandlich. Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1917.

This work was expanded in a revised edition in 1918; the expanded version was translated into English by Robert Dawson, Relativity, The special and the General Theory: A Popular Exposition. London: Methuen, 1920. A New York edition, differing only in pagination, was published in 1921 by Holt.


Einstein, Albert, and Leopold Infeld. The Evolution of Physics; The Growth of Ideas from Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1938.

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Non-scientific Works

Einstein on Peace. Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden, eds. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.

Mein Weltbild. Amsterdam: Querido, 1934. Translated into English by Alan Harris, The World as I See It. New York: Covici-Freide, 1934.

A Collection of short non-technical essays.

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Cassidy, David. “Understanding the History of Special Relativity,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 16 (1986): 177-195.

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Historiographical Review:

Einstein and His Times

scientific work of Einstein is so recent, that scholars have only recently begun to examine it historically. Consequently, the historiographical debate over Einstein is about basic issues. What was Einstein’s path of discovery to special relativity? Was he influenced solely by scientific factors (and if so, which?), or did social factors play a role? The conventional view of his accomplishment has been in line with the official positivism of science. The 1905 relativity paper resulted from Einstein’s rarified thinking about the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiments to detect the motion of the earth through a light-carrying ether. Few scholars any longer take such a simple view of the matter. The evidence that Michelson’s work influenced Einstein is not clear. Abraham Pais, ‘Subtle is the Lord .. The Science and Life of Albert Einstein (1982) gives the best and most recent version of the conventional story of the origin of special relativity. Pais’s discussions of historical evidence epitomize the difficulty scientists have in dealing with historical documents.

istorians think more was at work in Einstein’s mind than fixing Michelson-Morley, and that Einstein had embarked on a path radically critical of Newtonian mechanics that led to special relativity. Gerald Holton’s papers, “Einstein, Michelson, and the ‘Crucial’ Experiment” (1969) and “On the Origins of the Special Theory of Relativity” (1960) provide the starting point for this alternative view. See also Doran, “Origins and Consolidation of Field Theory” (1975) and Hirosige, “The Ether Problem” (1976).

he discussion of Louis Pyenson, The Young Einstein (1985), of Einstein’s father’s efforts in the electrical business give us a new understanding of the family’s orientation toward the problems Einstein took up in his physics. Although much criticized by reviewers, Lewis Feuer’s Einstein and the Generations of Science (1974) provides suggestive descriptions of Zurich as a haven for non-Swiss radicalism.

nother question attracting historians’ attention is whether Einstein’s opposition to quantum mechanics after 1918 represented a turning away from his earlier scientific philosophy. Paul Forman has argued that anti-Semitism in post-war Germany powerfully affected German scientists, and Einstein’s repulsion to it is well established. Was Einstein’s adoption of the criterion of strict causality related to the association of anti-semitism with other German scientists’ renunciation of causality? Start with Forman, “Weimar Culture, Causality and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927” (1971). Examine Einstein’s response to anti-Semitism and his emergence as a political leader in the early Weimar Republic; see Clark, Einstein (1971). Then turn to the letters between Einstein and Max Born, where Einstein developed at greatest length his concerns about non-causality and where he began to talk about God (“The Old One”).

ith the publication of Einstein’s correspondence now underway, it is clear that further revision must be made of our assessment of Einstein the man, and — presumably — of his relation to his times. The first volume of correspondence reveals that Einstein and his first wife had an illegimate child, who was removed from them, prior to their marriage. A different portrait of Einstein is emerging: deeply emotional, rather than emotionally aloof as in his post-World War I public imagery; continually discussing physics with Mileva Maric, a fellow physics student whom he married, a previously unknown confidant in science; a self-conscious bohemian rejecting his bourgeois background; his radicalism in physical theory driven by a need to triumph over professors who had dealt him academic setbacks. Einstein’s youthful passion and emotional commitments may have been suppressed when as a middle-aged man he presented a public face, but they could not have been destroyed. Exciting historical research lies ahead as historians assess the roles of head and heart in Einstein’s profound shifts in physical theory – after 1907 when he turned toward the general theory, after 1917 when he turned away from statistical atomic theory, and after 1927 in his search for a unified field theory.

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Fölsing, Albrecht . Albert Einstein: A Biography.Translated from the German by Ewald Osers. German edition, 1993. New York: Viking, 1997.

Fölsing’s biography is now the best nontechnical biography of Einstein. It should be read instead of Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (1971). Fölsing is cautious in using the new material discovered from Einstein’s youth, however, and therefore the Highfield and Carter biography should be read along with it.

Frank, Philipp. Einstein, sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris: Michel, 1950. Translated by George Rosen, edited and revised by Shuichi Kusaka, under the title Einstein: His Life and Times. New York: Knopf, 1953.

Considered by some historians to be the best single account available in English, but written before documentation of Einstein’s relationship with Mileva Maric and his later (apparent) distancing from women. It must be balanced by Highfield and Carter.

Garbedian, H. Gordon. Albert Einstein, Maker of Universes. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1939.

Highfield, Roger and Paul Carter. The Private Lives of Albert Einstein. 1993. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.

The first biography to take systematic advantage of the new personal materials on Einstein, providing the first appreciation of Mileva Maric. Essential to understanding the man.

Pais, Abraham. ‘Subtle is the Lord …’: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Literary reviewers widely praised Pais’ biography as (at last!) an understandable, if intellectually sophisticated, account of the genesis and development of the relativity theories. Pais knew Einstein personally for years, but he is not a historian, and his biography bears inexplicable hostility toward professional historiography. The antagonism is misplaced, since Pais’ lapses repeatedly into rational reconstruction and hides much of the cultural context of Einstein’s work now being recovered by historians.

Seelig, Carl. Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography. Translated by M. Savill. London: Staples, 1956.

The later German edition was much expanded from the English edition and is recommended: Carl Seelig, Albert Einstein (Zurich: Europea Verlag, 1960). This German edition is considered by historians as the best biography.

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Origin of the Relativity Theories

Bork, Alfred M. “The Fourth Dimension in Nineteenth-century Physics,” Isis 55 (1964): 326-338.

Feuer, Lewis S. Einstein and the Generations of Science. New York: Basic Books, 1974.

Goldberg, Stanley. Understanding Relativity: Origin and Impact of a Scientific Revolution. Basel / Boston / Stuttgart: Birkhauser, 1984.

Hirosige, Tetu. “The Ether Problem, The Mechanistic World View, and the Origins of Special Relativity,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 7 (1976): 3-82.

Stresses the importance for Einstein of Mach’s demolition of Newtonian metaphysics.

Holton, Gerald. The Advancement of Science and Its Burdens: The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Essays include “Einstein”s Model for Constructing a Scientific Theory,” “Einstein’s Scientific Program: The Formative Years,” “Einstein’s Search for the Weltbild,” “Einstein and the Shaping of Our Imagination,” “Physics in America and Einstein’s Decision to Immigrate.”

Holton, Gerald. “Einstein, Michelson, and the ‘Crucial’ Experiment,” Isis 60 (1969): 133-197.

Holton, Gerald. “Mach, Einstein, and the Search for Reality,” pp. 219-259 in Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, Kepler to Einstein. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Holton, Gerald. “On the Origins of the Special Theory of Relativity,” American Journal of Physics 28 (1960): 627-636.

Jungnickel, Christina, and Russell McCormmach. Intellectual Mastery of Nature: Theoretical Physics from Ohm to Einstein. Volume 1: The Torch of Mathematics, 1800-1870. Volume 2: The Now Mighty Theoretical Physics, 1870-1925. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Miller, Arthur I. Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905-1911). Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1981.

Miller, Arthur I. “The Special Relativity Theory: Einstein’s Response to the Physics of 1905,” in Gerald Holton, and Yehuda Elkana, Editors, Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives. The Centennial Symposium in Jerusalem. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Ogawa, Tsuyoshi. “Japanese Evidence for Einstein’s Knowledge of the Michelson-Morley Experiment,” Japanese Studies in the History of Science 18 (1979): 73-81.

Pyenson, Lewis. “Einstein’s Education: Mathematics and the Laws of Nature,” Isis 71 (September 1980): 399-425.

Pyenson, Lewis. The Young Einstein: The Advent of Relativity. Bristol and Boston: Adam Hilger, 1985.

Swenson, Lloyd S. Genesis of Relativity: Einstein in Context. Studies in the History of Science, 5. New York: Burt Franklin, 1979.

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Reception of Relativity Theories

Crelinsten, Jeffrey. “Einstein, Relativity and the Press,” Physics Teacher 18 (1980): 115-122.

Crelinsten, Jeffrey. “Physicists Receive Relativity,” Physics Teacher 18 (1980): 187-193.

Elton, Lewis. “Einstein, General Relativity, and the German Press, 1919-1920,” Isis 77 (March 1986): 95-103.

Glick, Thomas F. The Comparative Reception of Relativity. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1987.

Glick, Thomas F. Einstein in Spain: Relativity and the Recovery; of Science. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Goenner, Hubert. “The Reaction to Relativity Theory, I: The Anti-Einstein Campaign in Germany in 1920,” in Mara Beller, Jürgen Renn (guest editors), and Robert S. Cohen, Science in Context 6 (1993).

Goldberg, Stanley. Understanding Relativity: Origin and Impact of a Scientific Revolution. Basel, Boston, Stuttgart: Birkhauser, 1984.

Infeld, Leopold. Albert Einstein, His Work and Its Influence on Our World. New York: Scribner, 1950.

Miller, Arthur I. Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905-1911). Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc., 1981.

Tobey, Ronald C. The American Ideology of National Science, 1919-1930. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.

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Other Studies

Dingle, Herbert. “Reason and Experiment in Relation to the Special Theory,” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 15 (1964): 41-61.

Fine, Arthur. “The Young Einstein and the Old Einstein,” pp. 145-159 in R. S. Cohen, et. al., Editors, Essays in Memory of Imre Lakatos. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 39. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1976.

Discusses whether Einstein was able to accept new ideas as he got older, an important matter involving the issue whether Einstein’s opposition to quantum mechanics after 1918 represented a turning-away from his philosophical orientation when he created special relativity.

Friedman, Alan J., and Carol C. Donley. Einstein as Myth and Muse. Cambridge, New York, and London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Grunbaum, A. “The Philosophical Retention of Absolute Space in Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity,” Philosophical Review 66 (1957): 525-535.

Grunbaum, A. “The Relevance of Philosophy to the History of the Special Theory of Relativity,” Journal of Philosophy 59 (1962): 561-574.

Holton, Gerald. “On the Thematic Analysis of science: The Case of Poincaré and Relativity,” pp. 257-268 in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré. Paris: Hermann, 1964.

Missner, Marshall. “Why Einstein Became Famous in America,” Social Studies of Science 15 (1985): 267-291.

Pyenson, Lewis. “Einstein’s Natural Daughter,”History of Science 28 (1990), pp. 365-379.

A clever contextualization of Mileva’s premarital pregnancy that resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter; Pyenson argues that the pregnancy was probably not accidental, and that as a deliberate choice the pregnancy would have been conventional, i.e., in line with the “majoritarian” social mores of their nineteenth century background rural culture. They were not so radical, after all?

Sayen, Jamie. Einstein in America: The Scientist’s Conscience in the Age of Hitler. New York: Crown, 1985.

Schlipp, Paul A. ed. Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. 2 vols. 1st ed. 1951. New York: Harper & Brothers, Torchbook edition, 1959.

The most important single collection of papers concerning Einstein and relativity.

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Advanced Interpretation

The following volumes represent a growing sophistication in technical and philosophical interpretation in Einstein studies, but seem less historicist than a historian might like. They are of interest only to advanced graduate students.

Howard, Don, and John Stachel, Editors. Volume I. Einstein and the History of General Relativity. Proceedings of the 1986 Osgood Hill Conference, North Andover, Massachusetts. Sponsored by the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University. Boston: Birkhauser, 1989.

Ashetkar, Abhay, and John Stachel, Editors. Volume II. Conceptual Problems in Quantum Gravity. Sponsored by the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University. Boston: Birkhauser, 1991.

Eisenstaedt, Jean, and A. J. Knox, Editors. Volume III. Studies in the History of General Relativity. Sponsored by the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University. Boston: Birkhauser, 1991.

Janis, Allin, and John R. Porter, Editors. Volume IV. Recent Advances in General Relativity. Sponsored by the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University. Boston: Birkhauser, 1991.

Earman, John, Michel Janssen, and John D. Norton, editors. Volume V. The Attraction of Gravitation: New Studies in the History of General Relativity. Sponsored by the Center for Einstein studies Boston: Birkhauser, 1993..

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Popularizations of the Theories

Popularizations explain what the science is about, rather than teach the science. Popularizers use analogies, usually to vernacular experience, and avoid long trains of reasoning. Since Galileo, popularization has had a historically important role in the ideology of science. On the role of popularization in the reception of Einstein’s theories, see Tobey, The American Ideology of National Science, 1919-1931 (1971). The titles below are provided for the purpose their authors intended – to introduce an exciting development in science.

Barnett, Lincoln K. The Universe and Dr. Einstein. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948.

The most popular of the thousands of popularizations.

Birkhoff, George D. “The Origin, Nature, and Influence of Relativity,” Scientific Monthly 18 (March 1924): 225-238, 408-421, 517-528, 616-624; 19 (August 1924): 18-29, 180-187.

Bondi, Hermann. Relativity and Common Sense, A New Approach to Einstein. Garden City N. Y.: Anchor Books, 1964.

Eddington, A. S. Space, Time and Gravitation; An Outline of the General Relativity Theory. 1920. New York: Harper 1959.

An intellectually difficult work, but still the best popularization.

Hawking, S. W. (Stephen W.) A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. Introduction by Carl Sagan. Illustrations by Ron Miller. Toronto / New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

Explains modern cosmological theory which builds on general relativity.

Sciama, D. W. The Physical Foundations of General Relativity. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., Anchor Books, 1969.

An accessible work, but requiring close attention. Not afflicted with Eddington’s questionable metaphysics. The most rigorous, yet understandable, popularization of the general theory.

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Introduction to the Science

Casper, Barry M., and Richard J. Noer. Revolutions in Physics. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.

Written by professors at Carleton College as a textbook for a “one-semester course for students who do not intend to specialize in physical science.” (Preface.) One-third of the book is devoted to the relativity theories. Only algebra is used. Attentive study makes self-instruction possible. Chapters 12-15, pp. 291-415, deal with the theory of relativity.

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What does this mean, Albert Einstein?

Photo credit: Photographs from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Special Collections, and Physics Department online photobase of images of historical physicists and mathematicians.