...Einstein’s brief stint in Prague has been downplayed as a brief interlude of little significance by most biographers. Gordin sets out to challenge this view. An expert in the history of modern physical sciences and of Russian, European, and American history, he pulls together a wealth of information about the wider context of Einstein’s stay in Prague and of the cultural, scientific, and political history of Bohemia ... Gordin turns his account into an analysis of how key developments in 20th-century theoretical physics are intertwined with and play out in regional, cultural, and broader political history. But would Einstein’s biography or Prague’s history have looked much different if Einstein had not spent a year in Bohemia? ... I enjoyed reading this highly informative, profoundly researched, and well-written book but, in the end, was not convinced that Einstein’s time in Prague left any deeper traces beyond what one would expect ... Nonetheless, Gordin explores unknown connections and forgotten biographies with impressive scholarly meticulousness and fervor, tracing lines of development that follow a dynamic of their own. Even if they played only a minor role in the biography of the famous physicist, these details are interesting in their own right.
...historians of science of my generation occasionally let themselves wonder about what might have been. One of these historians is Michael Gordin, whose fascinating new book, Einstein in Bohemia, demands we take seriously the idea that Albert Einstein himself was once just another physicist. A book about the most famous scientist in the world, it stubbornly, insistently, focuses on a 16-month stretch in which nothing particularly eventful happened ... For Gordin, the banality of Einstein’s time in Prague is the point. Einstein in Bohemia is as much a series of essays on historical method and memory as it is a biography that uses Einsteinian ideas about perspective and spacetime to riff about the relationship between past and present, space and place. It’s also very much a book about Prague. It works in movements, looking backward and forward from Einstein’s Bohemian interlude to explore issues of biography, physics, Czech and German nationalism, the philosophy of science, literature, Jewishness, and public monuments. It is best savored in chunks, to better indulge in moments of reflection ... a book focused as much on myth, memory, and what might have been as on how Einstein spent his 16 months in Prague. Einstein in Bohemia makes a persuasive case that spotlighting the most obscure moments of a scientist’s career can in fact illuminate larger truths — at least if that scientist is Einstein.
...a book of connections and digressions, meticulous in scholarship and erudite in tone, that may be a frustrating read for anyone simply wanting to know what Einstein actually did during those 16 months ... The result is a nonlinear narrative of historical dot-joining, dense in content and admirable in academic rigor, that will doubtless become an essential reference for anyone researching what has usually been seen as a minor chapter in Einstein’s life.