EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1879-1955.
Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie. Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1916.
8vo. 64 pp. Original printed buff wrappers. Custom cloth chemise and red quarter morocco slipcase, spine gilt. Few spots and light soiling to covers, mild rubbing to backstrip; excellent.
Provenance: Hermann Rohmann, 1886-1931 (ownership inscription to title); American Art Association (Anderson Galleries), November 11-12, 1937, lot 175; to Halsted Billings Vander Poel, 1911-2003 (his sale, Christie's, Mar 3, 2004, lot 327).
Exhibited: The Grolier Club (1947[?] exhibition card laid in).
FIRST EDITION, MONOGRAPH ISSUE OF THE GENERAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY, SIGNED, AND WITH IMPORTANT INSCRIPTION BY EINSTEIN GRAPPLING WITH UNIFIED FIELD THEORY. The offprint is the first issue with correct printer's imprints.
The title-page is signed by Einstein in the upper left and inscribed by him below his printed name and dated 1938. Halsted Vander Poel purchased this signed offprint at auction as a young man and shortly thereafter must have asked Einstein to inscribe the book during one of his New York visits. Fortune favors the bold, and Vander Poel acquired a truly landmark item when he asked for the inscription. The present is the only first edition of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity that we trace with a scientific inscription. It reads in full: "Die Theorie der Gravitation hat sich unterdessen bewahrt. Ihre Beziehung zu der Maxwell'chen der Elektrizität auf den von Kaluza zuerst eingeschlagenen Wege dürfte wohl auch das Richtige treffen. Dagegen is der Zusammenhang mit der Atomistik und der Theorie der Quanten noch dunkel" (in translation: "Gravitational theory has meanwhile proven itself. Its connection to Maxwell's electromagnetic theory, along paths first opened by Kaluza, should also prove to be correct. On the other hand, the connection to atomic and quantum theory remains obscure").
Theodor Kaluza (1885-1954) had written in 1919 that Einstein's gravitation and Maxwell's electromagnetism could be described in one theory if he introduced five, instead of four, dimensions. Einstein tried to achieve such unification at first in other ways but in the 1930s he returned to Kaluza's idea and published several papers. One of them, published in July, 1938 was "On a Generalization of Kaluza's Theory of Electricity" co-authored by Einstein with Peter Bergmann which ascribed a physical reality to Kaluza's fifth dimension. These field theories operate with continuous quantities (fields) but according to quantum theory, nature is ultimately atomistic (discrete). Einstein's aim was to design a field theory with equations the solutions of which would describe discrete particles like electronsso as to best quantum mechanics, which he disliked. The program never succeeded. His remark here, in 1938, refers to his ongoing search for a unified field theory. At this time Einstein believed he was on the verge of unifying the gravitational and electromagnetic fields but he also expresses his frustration that he has not yet managed to derive the existence of particles from the theory (hence the relation to quantum mechanics is "dunkel").
That the two best theories for explaining the universe: quantum mechanics and general relativity, work splendidly well individually but have resisted attempts to combine them mathematically, remains one of the most intractable problems in physics. The present inscription, being so characteristic of Einstein's philosophical drive to unification and actually written on the first edition of General Relativity Theory presents one of the most quintessential Einstein items imaginable.
Also noteworthy is that this is the paper in which Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in the metric of space-time that propagate as waves at the speed of light. Earlier this year, on February 11, 2016, LIGO announced the first direct observation of gravitational waves originating from a pair of merging black holes. A second detection from coalescing black holes was announced on June 15, 2016, almost exactly 100 years after Einstein's paper. Grolier/Horblit 26c; Norman 696; PMM 408; Weil Checklist (1960), 80a.