A Brief History of Relativity

What is it? How does it work? Why does it change everything? An easy primer by the world's most famous living physicist

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When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Einstein left the country and renounced his German citizenship. He spent the last 22 years of his life at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. The Nazis launched a campaign against "Jewish science" and the many German scientists who were Jews (their exodus is part of the reason Germany was not able to build an atom bomb). Einstein and relativity were principal targets for this campaign. When told of publication of the book One Hundred Authors Against Einstein, he replied, Why 100? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.

After World War II, he urged the Allies to set up a world government to control the atom bomb. He was offered the presidency of the new state of Israel in 1952 but turned it down. "Politics is for the moment," he once wrote, "while...an equation is for eternity." The equations of general relativity are his best epitaph and memorial. They should last as long as the universe.

The world has changed far more in the past 100 years than in any other century in history. The reason is not political or economic but technological--technologies that flowed directly from advances in basic science. Clearly, no scientist better represents those advances than Albert Einstein: TIME's Person of the Century.

Professor Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, occupies the Cambridge mathematics chair once held by Isaac Newton

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