My new book Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion got reviewed in The New York Times.
Gimbel is an engaging writer. In demonstrating the obvious, he takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads.
The book starts with the Nazi-era claim that the theory of relativity is "Jewish science" and asks what that phrase means. By examining several different interpretations, we are led through discussions of physics, sociology, psychology, the arts, history, theology, literature, and philosophy to see that the entanglement of science, politics, and religion did not begin with intelligent design and global warming.
Einstein was much more politically active than most people realize. The wise, grey-haired kibitzer we tend to think of was a sharp-tonged, internationalist, anti-war advocate at a time when it was deeply unpopular to hold such views, much less express them loudly. He was hated by German nationalists in the same way that Jane Fonda was during Vietnam and Michael Moore after 9/11.
His detractors were not all ideologically driven crazies with no background in science. In fact, two of the leading lights of the Aryan Physics Movement were Nobel laureates -- Philipp Lenard and Johannes Stark. Theirs are stories of scientists led to ideological extreme by circumstance, but who, in the end, did lend their credibility to this horrible movement.
Indeed, it has not stopped. To this day, there is a strand of American conservatism that seeks to undermine the theory of relativity for political reasons using some of the same arguments that we saw back then. Indeed, check out the Conservapedia pages on the theory of relativity if you want a sense.
We like to try to divorce science from the scientists and the times in which they live, but science affects and is effected by everything else that influences us. It doesn't mean that we don't have objectively good reason to believe the conclusions in the end, but if we want to understand how we got to what we should believe, the stories are much more interesting than you will find in any textbook.