© 2007

The Genesis of General Relativity

  • Michel Janssen
  • John D. Norton
  • Jürgen Renn
  • Tilman Sauer
  • John Stachel
  • The most in-depth study of the major scientific revolution of the 20th century

  • Einstein’s 1912 Zurich notebook for the first time published in facsimile and transcript and commented on by today’s major historians of science

  • Additional sources on the genesis of General Relativity to appear in English translation for the first time

  • Contributions that provide access for non-specialists


Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 250)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-6
    1. Michel Janssen, John D. Norton, Jürgen Renn, Tilman Sauer, John Stachel
      Pages 7-20
    2. Jürgen Renn
      Pages 21-80
    3. John Stachel
      Pages 81-111
    4. Jürgen Renn, Tilman Sauer
      Pages 113-312
    5. Michel Janssen, Jürgen Renn, Tilman Sauer, John D. Norton, John Stachel
      Pages 489-714
    6. John D. Norton
      Pages 715-783
  2. The Gravitational Force between Mechanics and Electrodynamics

    1. Jürgen Renn, Matthias Schemmel
      Pages 926-944
    2. Jonathan Zenneck
      Pages 1001-1037
    3. Hendrik A. Lorentz
      Pages 1038-1052
    4. Benedict, Immanuel Friedlaender
      Pages 1053-1071
    5. FÄppl August
      Pages 1072-1080
  3. An Astronomical Road to a New Theory of Gravitation

  4. A New Law of Gravitation Enforced by Special Relativity

About this book


This four-volume work represents the most comprehensive documentation and study of the creation of general relativity; one of the fundamental physical theories of the 20th century. It comprises key sources from Einstein and others who from the late 19th to the early 20th century contributed to this monumental development. Some of these sources are presented here in translation for the first time. Einstein’s famous Zurich notebook, which documents the pivotal steps toward general relativity, is reproduced here for the first time and transcribed in its entirety. The volumes offer detailed commentaries and analyses of these sources that are based on a close reading of these documents supplemented by interpretations by the leading historians of relativity. All in all, the facets of this work, based on more than a decade of research, combine to constitute one of the most in-depth studies of a scientific revolution ever written.


4-vector Evolution Gravity RMS Relativity Scientific Revolution Special relativity general relativity idea interpret science theory of relativity

Editors and affiliations

  • Michel Janssen
    • 1
  • John D. Norton
    • 2
  • Jürgen Renn
    • 3
  • Tilman Sauer
    • 4
  • John Stachel
    • 5
  1. 1.University of MinnesotaUSA
  2. 2.University of PittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceGermany
  4. 4.Einstein Papers ProjectCaltechUSA
  5. 5.Boston UniversityUSA

Bibliographic information


From the reviews:

These volumes prove that to Wittgenstein’s saying that "Genius is what makes us forget skill" ought to be added the statement "when viewing the finished product." Genius is also the ability to master the available resources and techniques and to synthesize them in a manner that overwhelms. The volumes are the product of a remarkable cooperative effort on the part of five of the most distinguished Einstein scholars. They deciphered and analyzed the extended research notes that Einstein made from 1912 to 1915 in his struggle to arrive at the final formulation of his theory of general relativity. In doing so they have given us deep new insights on Einstein’s creativity and on creativity in general, on context, on the role of past resources and expertise, and on the function of analogies. Their researches, observations and commentary have also made us think anew of the concept of a scientific revolution. Their splendid work is surely one of the most important and seminal scholarly accomplishments of recent times.

S.S. Schweber, Brandeis University, USA

"The publication of The Genesis of General Relativity marks the outcome of 10 years of research into the origins of Einstein’s General Relativity Theory … . It provides a comprehensive study and in-depth analysis of how the work of Albert Einstein and his contemporaries changes our understanding of space, time and gravitation. … At the center of this reconstruction, is a commentary of Einstein’s unpublished research notes, so-called ‘Zurich Notebook’, presented in their entirety for the first time." (Renn Jürgen,, February, 2007)

These volumes are the result of over two decades of effort, by most of the
leading scholars in the field, to understand the process that culminated in
1915 and 1916 in Einstein’s publication of the general theory of relativity.
In addition to relativity physicists the project involved, both individually
and more frequently collaboratively, historians and philosophers of science.
The central objective was, through this richly documented case study, to
identify universal features of the epistemological transformation that the
authors have called a “Copernican process”: How is it that heuristic guides
can render conceptual changes that invalidate their use? This dynamical
transmutation is firmly rooted in received societal and disciplinary scientific
knowledge. In the particular case under study here, most relativists will
probably have little trouble rejecting the mistaken popular notion that Einstein
was an isolated genius, creating his new world through shear inspired
imagination... Donald Salisbury, July 2008

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