Mount Airy resident Steven Gimbel found out that his latest book was reviewed by The New York Times the day it was published.
A friend living in Manhattan called Gimbel, a college philosophy professor at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., to give him the good news.
Not only had his book — “Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion” — been reviewed by the paper, it was on the front page of the Aug. 5 book section.
“I had no idea it was coming out. … I tripped over it online,” he said. “I’m absolutely delighted. It was one of those happy surprises in life.”
Among other things, the review, written by George Johnson, a journalist and science writer, describes Gimbel as an “engaging writer.”
“To have the book appreciated by someone so well known, by someone I admire, was really a treat,” he said.
Published May 21 by Johns Hopkins University Press, the book explores the impact of Albert Einstein’s Jewish heritage on his scientific work, specifically his most well-known theory — the theory of relativity.
“[The theory of relativity says that] from different reference frames the truth will appear differently … so in order to get to the [actual] truth, we need to view how people would see [it] from different vantage points and see how they are connected,” Gimbel said. “And you see that same reasoning in the Talmud.”
The Talmud is a religious text that explains Jewish law and traditions.
“What [the Talmud] holds in the same sort of way is that there are absolute truths but [it] interprets them in different ways for different situations, and there is [in that] this Jewish style in [Einstein’s] science,” Gimbel said.
It took Gimbel two years to write the book, which is currently available in most places books are sold, including Amazon.
The book’s title refers to a phrase used by Nazi scientists to describe Einstein’s work, which they dismissed as “Jewish science,” Gimbel said.
With his new work, Gimbel said he hopes to replace the phrase’s negative connotation with a positive one. He argues that Einstein's Jewish heritage likely influenced his scientific reasoning, forever changing the world of physics.
“It’s sort of intellectual recycling,” he said. “The question is, Is there anything in the science itself that says it’s ‘Jewish science?’ Can we reclaim this phrase and turn it into something useful and wonderful?”
Gimbel said he has been invited to speak about his research everywhere from Connecticut to Louisiana. He will travel to England in June to give a lecture at the University of Leeds about the book.
“The response to the book has been very positive,” he said. “It’s really been gratifying to see people really enjoying it.”
Kathy Alexander, publicity manager for Johns Hopkins University Press, said that since the Times review, sales for the book have “gone off the charts.”
“We’ve had to go back and reprint the book already,” she said. “When someone lands a front page review in The New York Times book review section, everyone seems to be interested in the book.”
When it was first published, about 4,000 copies of the book were printed.
Even Gimbel’s students are reading it, some for more noble motives than others, he said.
“I’ve heard from a whole bunch of my former students to say they enjoyed the book and how tickled they are to see my name out there,” he said. “The current students I think are just looking for better grades.”
Gimbel, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, said the experience of writing the book has given him a different perspective on his religion.
“What this book really did is show me that [the religious] parts of me are still a part of what I think and what I do,” he said. “Even science, which we think as this objective endeavor, is colored by who we are, where we have been, where we are from.”