Einstein’s Greatest Mistake

David explores the profound mistake Einstein made at the peak of his powers which would tear apart his life, and lead to decades of near isolation. Einstein was the greatest genius of our time – perhaps of all time – but he was also a human being, and his mistake was not a scientific but a very human one, something that could happen to us all. This fascinating story encompasses Einstein’s theory of relativity – made accessible to the general reader – as well as exploring the numerous facets of the great man’s life, and holds many lessons for those keen to learn from the mistakes of a genius.

(The book is complete in itself, but it also offers an extended appendix, for readers who want to take the subject further. Send an email to info.bodanis@gmail.com with the word ‘appendix’ in the subject line, and a copy will be sent your way. Your email of course won’t be passed on to anyone else.)


Most people know that Einstein’s equation is important but they don’t usually know why. This book takes an approach to the equation that concentrates not on the biography of Einstein but on the biography of the equation itself. David Bodanis looks at the ancestors of the equation, the three elements – e, m and c – before they end up together in Einstein’s equation in Berne, 1905. From there he follows the course of the equation through the 20th century, focusing on the people who developed Einstein’s work and its consequences. Without the equation for instance there would have been no atomic bomb, no lasers, no Internet and no science of black holes.

Electric Universe

For centuries, electricity was viewed as little more than a curious property of certain substances that sparked when rubbed. Then, in the 1790s, Alessandro Volta began the scientific investigation that ignited an explosion of knowledge and invention, transforming our world. The force that once seemed inconsequential was revealed to be responsible for everything from the structure of the atom to the functioning of our brains.

Passionate Minds

Emilie du Chatelet was one of the greatest thinkers of the 18th century, a woman whose work was of vital use to Einstein and who, until now, has been largely ignored by history. Fiercely intellectual and passionate, Emilie’s relationship with Voltaire was as radical as her thinking; only after swordfights, wild affairs and rigging the French national lottery did the two finally find love together. In an isolated chateau they combined their unique talents, producing theories more than a century ahead of their time. Voltaire challenged the social norms and great injustices of the era, as well as expanding on Newton’s Laws. When they ran out of money, Emilie, with her razor-sharp mathematics, would gamble in Versailles. Their progressive thinking won them only public scorn and even imprisonment in the Bastille for Voltaire.

When their love finally ended, Emilie found happiness in an independent life until, tragically, she became pregnant. Then in her forties, it meant almost-certain death in childbirth. Voltaire returned to comfort her in her last months, when she wrote some of her most important work.

The Secret House

This is a description of 24 hours in the life of a house, revealing all the little-known stirrings continually going on; hidden beneath the surface around us – from the static between radio stations that’s partly created by the explosion of distant stars, to the thousands of microscopic pillow mites that snuggle up with us every night. It starts with the wake-up alarm and then proceeds through dressing and mealtimes, dinner party, clean up and back to bed again. Along the way one learns why Lavoisier was guillotined, how the blue got into denim, why there are so many fish scales in popular brands of lipstick – even why you don’t hear Mozart in Gothic cathedrals.

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