EINSTEIN'S POPULAR BOOK ON RELATIVITY

I

Not

long

after

the

final

version

of

the

general

theory

of

relativity

was

completed

in

the fall of

1915,

Einstein

began thinking seriously

about

writing

a

popular

book

on

relativity, though complaining,

as

he wrote to

a

friend at

the

beginning

of

1916,

that

he

found it difficult

to

begin.

"On the other hand if

I

don't

do it,

the

theory

will

not

be understood,

however

simple

it

basically

is."[1]

The

book,

Einstein 1917a

(Doc.

42),

was

completed by

December of the

same year

and

published

in the

spring

of

1917.[2]

Einstein

was

not

completely

satisfied with the

result,

especially

with

the

style,

which

he

referred

to

as

"wooden."[3]

The

book

was

a

success

nevertheless:

fourteen editions

appeared

between

1917

and

1922,

and the book

is

still

available.[4]

Particularly

after the observation of

gravitational light

deflection

in

the late fall of

1919,

foreign

publishers

became interested

in

translating

it.[5]

The

first

edition

of

an

English

translation

appeared

in

1920

(Einstein 1920),

and the book

went

through

five

more

editions within

two years.

Translations into other

languages

such

as

French

(Einstein 1921a),

Russian

(Einstein 1921b),

and Czech

(Einstein 1923)

soon

fol-

lowed.

This

popular

account

of

relativity

is not

the

first

of

its

kind. Some of Einstein's

contemporaries

had

already sought

to

explain

the

special

as

well

as

the

general theory

in

a

nontechnical

way

to

a

general

audience,[6]

and

Einstein

himself had tried his

hand

at

making

his work accessible

to

a

wider audience: he

wrote

a

number of

shorter

expositions

of

special

relativity[7]

and

a

paper

in

which

he

touches

on

the foundations

of

general relativity

as

well.[8]

Einstein's

style

is

clear and

easy

to

follow.

Only simple

formulas

are

used

in

the

main

text,

while

more

mathematical details

are

given

in

appendixes

that

were

added

in later editions for those who

are

interested.

In

addition

to

explaining

the basic facts

[1]"Aber

wenn

ich

es

nicht

thue,

wird die

Theorie nicht verstanden

werden,

so

einfach sie

im Grunde

nun

ist." Einstein

to

Michele

Besso,

3 January

1916.

[2]See

Walther Rathenau

to

Einstein,

10-11

May 1917,

in

which Rathenau mentions that

he

has

recently

received the book.

[3]"hölzern."

Einstein

to

Michele

Besso,

9

March

1917. He

used the

same term to

describe

the

style

of Einstein 1916c

(Doc.

29).

[4]The

following

German editions

appeared during

Einstein's

life:

first

(1917),

second

(1917),

third

(1918; enlarged),

fourth

(1919),

fifth

(1920),

sixth

(1920),

seventh

(1920), eighth

(1920),

ninth

(1920),

tenth

(1920; enlarged),

eleventh

(1921),

twelfth

(1921),

thirteenth

(1921),

fourteenth

(1922),

and sixteenth

(1954;

enlarged).

There

is

no

fifteenth German edi-

tion.

[5]See Elsa Einstein

to

Paul

Ehrenfest, 10

December

1919.

[6]Earlier

expositions

include

Cohn

1913,

recommended

by

Einstein

in

Einstein 1914h

(Doc.

1)

and

praised

by

him

in

Einstein 1915b

(Vol.

4,

Doc.

21);

Brill

1914

and

Lorentz 1914b,

both reviewed

by

Einstein

(see

Einstein

1914p, 1914q

[Docs. 10 and

11]);

and

Freundlich

1916b,

for which Einstein

wrote

a preface

(Einstein

1916i

[Doc. 35]).

[7]See

Einstein 1910a

(Vol.

3,

Doc.

2),

Einstein 1911i

(Vol.

3,

Doc.

17),

and

Einstein 1915b

(Vol.

4,

Doc.

21).

[8]Einstein

1914h

(Vol. 4,

Doc.

31).