This little book is a flawed gem: at times illuminating, at times unpolished. Still, it will surely fine-tune the reader’s understanding of the gestalt of Einstein the man, and that’s its most significant contribution. Apparently, that shock of unkempt hair was not always in the clouds.

József Illy, the book’s author, is a senior editor with the Einstein Papers Project and an associate in history at the California Institute of Technology. His treatment of history is formal, precise, extensively researched, and often fascinating, full of information that will likely surprise the casual reader of literature Einsteinian. Illy tells us in the Preface “I am not an engineer,” and, alas, that becomes clear as the text unfolds. He also informs that he is “not a native speaker,” and that too becomes evident, though with proper editing it need not have been.

The book introduces us to Einstein’s “practical side,” an intriguing...

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