Atlanta “home-town boy,” Benyamin Cohen, the founding editor of Jewsweek and American Jewish Life magazine, is the news editor of America’s oldest Jewish newspaper, The Forward. In his second book, “The Einstein Effect: How the World’s Favorite Genius Got into Our Cars, Our Bathrooms, and Our Minds,” Cohen demonstrates how Albert Einstein’s theories directly affect our lives today.
While paying homage to (and explaining for the layman) Einstein’s seminal discoveries, Cohen writes with detail and humor about Time magazine’s Dec. 31, 1999, “Person of the Century.” No matter how much you already know about Einstein, Cohen’s book is full of surprises, chapter after chapter, often page after page.
“Genius” describes a person of superior intellect and creativity, and Cohen goes wide and deep into the life and legacy of the world’s most famous genius. In his witty, light-hearted style, Cohen shows the idiosyncrasies as well as the brilliance of his subject, making Einstein accessible to the non-scientist reader. Seeking stories about Einstein, Cohen relates his own dogged investigative odyssey, in which he interacted with interesting people connected to his subject. We also learn why Einstein was not only admired, but also adored, and the chapter about Einstein’s contemporary social media popularity—Cohen manages Einstein’s social media accounts— humorously addresses the adoration.
It’s fun to read about the continuum of nutty, driven, brilliant, and quixotic characters who play a part in Einstein’s legacy: for example, Cohen delivers a play-by-play description of the crazy, labyrinthine journey of Einstein’s brain—or slices of it—starting with its theft by the man who performed Einstein’s autopsy. Cohen’s lively writing style and his crawls through one journalistic rabbit-hole after another make the book a page-turner, not to mention a goldmine for trivia fans.
Einstein died in 1955, long before inventions derived from his theories became ubiquitous, including remote controls, motion detectors, automatic doors, checkout scanners, driverless cars, burglar alarms, lasers, solar panels, the iPhone camera, medical devices, and even GPS. These modern inventions resulted from Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect, for which he received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. (Einstein did not receive the Nobel Prize for his theory of relativity. Cohen explains why).
Learn Einstein’s beliefs about time travel, alien civilizations, pacifism, and his leadership in Jewish causes; in response to the Holocaust, he created the International Rescue Committee, the humanitarian organization that aids refugees around the world today. Einstein, an ardent Zionist, was a founder and fundraiser for Hebrew University in Israel, which houses the largest collection of Einstein-related materials in the world, but he declined an invitation to be the university’s first president. Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, even offered him the presidency of Israel, which he also declined, preferring to be a Princeton physicist rather than an Israeli politician.
Benyamin Cohen will speak about his book, “The Einstein Effect: How the World’s Favorite Genius Got into Our Cars, Our Bathrooms, and Our Minds,” at 1 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 29.