The Man Who Stalked Einstein, by Bruce J. Hillman, Birgit Ertl-Wagner and Bernd C. Wagner
Five out of five stars
Albert Einstein not only redefined how we look at and interpret the universe, he was also the equivalent of a rock star. People that had no understanding of his theories of relativity flocked to catch a glimpse of him and attend his lectures. Such accolades served to infuriate the Nazi leaders, as well as some of their sympathizers in the scientific community.
The most outspoken and verbally vicious sympathizer was Nobel Laureate Philipp Lenard. Lenard was a German scientist and extreme nationalist who was never able to accept Einstein’s fame, the non-existence of the ether or the fact that Einstein was nominally Jewish. Lenard objects strongly to all aspects of Einstein’s role in the world, he was an early joiner of the Nazi Party, long before it was expedient to do so.
The authors do an excellent job of setting the historical context for the fight between Lenard and Einstein. It is impossible to understand the situation without knowing the bitterness that was generated between scientists as a consequence of World War I. Once the war was over, German scientists were forbidden to attend conferences and were saddled with the war guilt that was placed upon Germany. The act of loyally supporting your country in conflict (on the side of the Central Powers) was considered an act of evil.
Fortunately for the world, the actions of Lenard and the Nazis he supported led to the rapid decline of the practice of physics in Germany. Politically loyal second rate people took the place of the best physicists in Germany and many of those replaced ended up in England or the United States. The authors do an accurate job in explaining this situation and how those expatriates were instrumental in the development of atomic weapons.
This book serves as a demonstration of how the intrusion of politics into science can be so corrosive. As a German physicist said when he read a few pages of Lenard’s manifesto, “One cannot simply rewrite the laws of nature.” Lenard and the Nazis tried to do that and as is so accurately described in this book, ended up as failures.