In the various tributes published following the sad death of Olivia Newton-John, mention was frequently made that she was the granddaughter of a famous Nobel laureate in physics, but not who the person was. In fact it was Max Born. When I graduated in Physics in 1971, I received two congratulatory presents, both books. One was Atomic Physics written by Max Born, the other was the Born Einstein Letters, co-written and edited by Born.
Max Born was a giant in his field at Göttingen University in the 1920s and early 1930s. Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb studied under him there. Following Hitler’s rise to power Born came to England, initially to Cambridge. Einstein, probably the most famous physicist of all time, went to America. Their fascinating correspondence concerned among other things, relativity, quantum theory, and the fate of Jewish scientists threatened by the Third Reich. It spanned the years between 1916 and 1955, the year of Einstein’s death. Most of the original letters were in German, and the translator into English, Max Born’s daughter, was Mrs Irene Newton-John.
The book is a historical document in itself, with a foreword by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and an introduction by another giant of physics Werner Heisenberg, the man who famously could never make up his mind...
A short extract from Earl Russell’s foreword resonates with today. Of Born and Einstein he says: I have deeply valued their friendship over many years. Both men were brilliant, humble and completely without fear in their public utterances. In an age of mediocrity and moral pygmies, their lives shine with intense beauty.
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