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Putting Einstein to the Test

In 1986, physics professor CLIFFORD WILL published the award-winning book Was Einstein Right? which took a look at how Einstein’s theory of relativity was holding up after more than 70 years. The book was written to help a general audience understand how tests and experiments of general relativity in the 1970s and early ’80s had continued to prove that — spoiler alert — yes, Einstein was still right.

Now 34 years later, Will, who received the 2019 Albert Einstein Medal from the Albert Einstein Society in Bern, Switzerland, is back with a new book co-written by Nicolás Yunes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Is Einstein Still Right? once again probes Einstein’s theory of relativity to see if new developments in the field have put the famous physicist on shakier ground.

(Oxford University Press)

In a rave review in BBC Sky at Night Magazine, Govert Schilling writes, “Starting with the detection of gravitational redshift and the bending of starlight by the gravity of the Sun, Will and Yunes provide an entertaining overview of the many tests that general relativity has been put to over the past 100 years or so, introducing pulsars and black holes along the way. In fact, the book contains a lot more interesting stuff — and nice personal anecdotes — than the title suggests.”

Along with explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity and the many discoveries in recent years associated with it, the book exudes an easy camaraderie between the authors. One of the best examples of this is found in a back and forth conversation between the two that closes the book. Here the two discuss the many developments in the field and wonder what will come next.

For Will, the desire to revisit this topic came from a concerning aversion to science he sees developing in some segments of society. By breaking down these complicated ideas in an explanatory manner, Will hopes this will lift a veil between the public and his field.

“We want to really present to the general public how science works, how it is that we believe certain things are correct,” he said. Will stressed that knowledge evolves and “obeys a pretty basic set of laws. We reject old ideas and adopt new ideas when our old ideas fail to conform to reality.”

Will hopes the new book, available on October 1, gives readers a valuable understanding of advancements in the field, while also leaving space for them to interpret the validity of Einstein’s work for themselves.

“We titled this book Is Einstein Still Right?” Will said, “and we will leave it to our readers to make up their own minds.”