Einstein by Walter Isaacson
(Simon & Schuster, $32)
Last year’s release of Albert Einstein’s love letters proved that we still don’t know everything about the celebrated physicist. Isaacs on incorporates these letters—as well as more familiar bits of Einstein lore—into a masterful portrait of the man behind the science. From the teenage atheist who renounced his German citizenship to the peace-activists eptuagenarian who pursued an “equation of everything” on his deathbed,the Einstein in this page-turner is inventive and fallible, with his accomplishments intimately linked to his nonconformity. Anecdotes from Einstein’s life slide seamlessly into accounts of his science; his triumphs appear not as isolated and inexplicable bursts of genius, but as carefully cultivated blooms from a hardworking—if unorthodox—gardener. With such rich raw material, so carefully mined,there is reason to welcome another Einstein biography.
The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
(Random House, $25.95)
Giant redwood trees shared the planet with the dinosaurs, yet somehow survived the asteroid impact. Today the 380-foot titans of Northern California are the tallest trees on Earth, and as old as the Parthenon.Until recently their unexplored crowns were thought to be largely devoid of life. Preston introduces a small band of climbers and scientists obsessed with seeing for themselves. Amidst a jungle gym of trunks and branches, they discover fruiting berry bushes, hanging fern gardens, dwarf oak trees—even tiny crustaceans. Preston joins the pioneers as they sky-walk hundreds of feet above the ground. His complete immersion in his subject makes for a superlative work of narrative nonfiction.