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Einstein: His Life and Universe

Einstein: His Life and Universe


作    者
Isaacson, Walter;  
封面价格 × 汇率 + 税(13%)
Simon & Schuster
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Product Description

By the author of the acclaimed bestseller 'Benjamin Franklin', this is the first full biography of Albert Einstein since all of his papers have become available. How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom. Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk - a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn't get a teaching job or a doctorate - became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals. These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age.

About the Author

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

Amazon.com Review

As a scientist, Albert Einstein is undoubtedly the most epic among 20th-century thinkers. Albert Einstein as a man, however, has been a much harder portrait to paint, and what we know of him as a husband, father, and friend is fragmentary at best. With Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson (author of the bestselling biographies Benjamin Franklin and Kissinger) brings Einstein's experience of life, love, and intellectual discovery into brilliant focus. The book is the first biography to tackle Einstein's enormous volume of personal correspondence that heretofore had been sealed from the public, and it's hard to imagine another book that could do such a richly textured and complicated life as Einstein's the same thoughtful justice. Isaacson is a master of the form and this latest opus is at once arresting and wonderfully revelatory. --Anne Bartholomew

Read "The Light-Beam Rider," the first chapter of Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe.
Five Questions for Walter Isaacson

Amazon.com: What kind of scientific education did you have to give yourself to be able to understand and explain Einstein's ideas?

Isaacson: I've always loved science, and I had a group of great physicists--such as Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, and Murray Gell-Mann--who tutored me, helped me learn the physics, and checked various versions of my book. I also learned the tensor calculus underlying general relativity, but tried to avoid spending too much time on it in the book. I wanted to capture the imaginative beauty of Einstein's scientific leaps, but I hope folks who want to delve more deeply into the science will read Einstein books by such scientists as Abraham Pais, Jeremy Bernstein, Brian Greene, and others.

Amazon.com: That Einstein was a clerk in the Swiss Patent Office when he revolutionized our understanding of the physical world has often been treated as ironic or even absurd. But you argue that in many ways his time there fostered his discoveries. Could you explain?

Isaacson: I think he was lucky to be at the patent office rather than serving as an acolyte in the academy trying to please senior professors and teach the conventional wisdom. As a patent examiner, he got to visualize the physical realities underlying scientific concepts. He had a boss who told him to question every premise and assumption. And as Peter Galison shows in Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps, many of the patent applications involved synchronizing clocks using signals that traveled at the speed of light. So with his office-mate Michele Besso as a sounding board, he was primed to make the leap to special relativity.

Amazon.com: That time in the patent office makes him sound far more like a practical scientist and tinkerer than the usual image of the wild-haired professor, and more like your previous biographical subject, the multitalented but eminently earthly Benjamin Franklin. Did you see connections between them?

Isaacson: I like writing about creativity, and that's what Franklin and Einstein shared. They also had great curiosity and imagination. But Franklin was a more practical man who was not very theoretical, and Einstein was the opposite in that regard.

Amazon.com: Of the many legends that have accumulated around Einstein, what did you find to be least true? Most true?

Isaacson: The least true legend is that he failed math as a schoolboy. He was actually great in math, because he could visualize equations. He knew they were nature's brushstrokes for painting her wonders. For example, he could look at Maxwell's equations and marvel at what it would be like to ride alongside a light wave, and he could look at Max Planck's equations about radiation and realize that Planck's constant meant that light was a particle as well as a wave. The most true legend is how rebellious and defiant of authority he was. You see it in his politics, his personal life, and his science.

Amazon.com: At Time and CNN and the Aspen Institute, you've worked with many of the leading thinkers and leaders of the day. Now that you've had the chance to get to know Einstein so well, did he remind you of anyone from our day who shares at least some of his remarkable qualities?

Isaacson: There are many creative scientists, most notably Stephen Hawking, who wrote the essay on Einstein as "Person of the Century" when I was editor of Time. In the world of technology, Steve Jobs has the same creative imagination and ability to think differently that distinguished Einstein, and Bill Gates has the same intellectual intensity. I wish I knew politicians who had the creativity and human instincts of Einstein, or for that matter the wise feel for our common values of Benjamin Franklin.

More to Explore

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Kissinger: A Biography

The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made


"A narrative masterpiece... This is a great read by a great writer about a great man--a biographical perfect storm." -- Michael Shermer, The New York Sun

"A triumph... Isaacson understands Einstein and explains his discoveries while sharing riveting personal detail." -- People (4 Stars)

"Brilliant... An illuminating biography of Einstein." -- Vanity Fair

"Delightful... The most comprehensive English-language biography of Einstein for a general readership... A seamless narrative." -- Sharon Begley, Newsweek

"Excellent... well researched and contains a surprising amount of new information... A major and authoritative work." -- Amir D. Aczel, The Boston Globe

From AudioFile

Albert Einstein, like no other scientist before or after him, managed to become a celebrity on par with the biggest movie stars and athletes--despite the fact that most nonscientists have no idea why his work was so important. This new biography helps explain the phenomenon by bringing out Einstein the human being, as well as the great physicist. Edward Herrmann, who also reads the unabridged recording, gets everything right in this briefer edition. The abridgment is occasionally choppy--perhaps unavoidably so--but nonetheless covers many interesting periods in the genius's life. Herrmann reads slowly and deliberately when explaining a principle of relativity, then switches to a more breezy style when relating biographical events. Like Einstein's own, it's a winning formula. D.B. © AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed biographer Isaacson examines the remarkable life of "science's preeminent poster boy" in this lucid account (after 2003's Benjamin Franklin and 1992's Kissinger). Contrary to popular myth, the German-Jewish schoolboy Albert Einstein not only excelled in math, he mastered calculus before he was 15. Young Albert's dislike for rote learning, however, led him to compare his teachers to "drill sergeants." That antipathy was symptomatic of Einstein's love of individual and intellectual freedom, beliefs the author revisits as he relates his subject's life and work in the context of world and political events that shaped both, from WWI and II and their aftermath through the Cold War. Isaacson presents Einstein's research—his efforts to understand space and time, resulting in four extraordinary papers in 1905 that introduced the world to special relativity, and his later work on unified field theory—without equations and for the general reader. Isaacson focuses more on Einstein the man: charismatic and passionate, often careless about personal affairs; outspoken and unapologetic about his belief that no one should have to give up personal freedoms to support a state. Fifty years after his death, Isaacson reminds us why Einstein (1879–1955) remains one of the most celebrated figures of the 20th century. 500,000 firsr printing, 20-city author tour, first serial to Time; confirmed appearance on Good Morning America. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Isaacson--formerly the managing editor at Time magazine and head of CNN, currently CEO of the Aspen Institute--has written acclaimed biographies of Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Franklin. In his penetrating and magnificently nuanced biography of Albert Einstein, Isaacson elucidates Einstein's nonconformist and philosophical temperament and the particular nature of his genius within a richly textured social context, and he precisely explains Einstein's "astonishing, mysterious, and counterintuitive" scientific achievements and their epic consequences. Isaacson explores Einstein's valiant advocacy for peace and justice in view of the genocidal anti-Semitism that drove him from Germany and revels in Einstein's pithy humor and role as scientific superstar. Isaacson tells in full the anguished tale of Einstein's disastrous marriage to Mileva Mari? and his appalling missteps as a father, the private failings of a public humanist. But what distinguishes this extraordinarily encompassing and profoundly affecting biography most are Isaacson's empathic insights into painful paradoxes. Einstein believed in an ordered universe of "harmony and beauty," yet his discoveries revealed uncertainty, randomness, and chance. Einstein spent the second half of his life not only attempting to refute his own revolutionary findings but also witnessing the creation of potentially apocalyptic weapons that harnessed the diabolical powers he unveiled. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.




"I promise you four papers," the young patent examiner wrote his friend.The letter would turn out to bear some of the most significant tidingsin the history of science, but its momentous nature was masked by animpish tone that was typical of its author. He had, after all, justaddressed his friend as "you frozen whale" and apologized for writing aletter that was "inconsequential babble." Only when he got around todescribing the papers, which he had produced during his spare time, didhe give some indication that he sensed their significance.

"The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light andis very revolutionary," he explained. Yes, it was indeed revolutionary.It argued that light could be regarded not just as a wave but also as astream of tiny particles called quanta. The implications that wouldeventually arise from this theory -- a cosmos without strict causalityor certainty -- would spook him for the rest of his life.

"The second paper is a determination of the true sizes of atoms." Eventhough the very existence of atoms was still in dispute, this was themost straightforward of the papers, which is why he chose it as thesafest bet for his latest attempt at a doctoral thesis. He was in theprocess of revolutionizing physics, but he had been repeatedly thwartedin his efforts to win an academic job or even get a doctoral degree,which he hoped might get him promoted from a third- to a second-classexaminer at the patent office.

The third paper explained the jittery motion of microscopic particles inliquid by using a statistical analysis of random collisions. In theprocess, it established that atoms and molecules actually exist.

"The fourth paper is only a rough draft at this point, and is anelectrodynamics of moving bodies which employs a modification of thetheory of space and time." Well, that was certainly more thaninconsequential babble. Based purely on thought experiments -- performedin his head rather than in a lab -- he had decided to discard Newton'sconcepts of absolute space and time. It would become known as theSpecial Theory of Relativity.

What he did not tell his friend, because it had not yet occurred to him,was that he would produce a fifth paper that year, a short addendum tothe fourth, which posited a relationship between energy and mass. Out ofit would arise the best-known equation in all of physics: E=mc2.

Looking back at a century that will be remembered for its willingness tobreak classical bonds, and looking ahead to an era that seeks to nurturethe creativity needed for scientific innovation, one person stands outas a paramount icon of our age: the kindly refugee from oppression whosewild halo of hair, twinkling eyes, engaging humanity, and extraordinarybrilliance made his face a symbol and his name a synonym for genius.Albert Einstein was a locksmith blessed with imagination and guided by afaith in the harmony of nature's handiwork. His fascinating story, atestament to the connection between creativity and freedom, reflects thetriumphs and tumults of the modern era.

Now that his archives have been completely opened, it is possible toexplore how the private side of Einstein -- his nonconformistpersonality, his instincts as a rebel, his curiosity, his passions anddetachments -- intertwined with his political side and his scientificside. Knowing about the man helps us understand the wellsprings of hisscience, and vice versa. Character and imagination and creative geniuswere all related, as if part of some unified field.

Despite his reputation for being aloof, he was in fact passionate inboth his personal and scientific pursuits. At college he fell madly inlove with the only woman in his physics class, a dark and intenseSerbian named Mileva Maric´. They had an illegitimate daughter, thenmarried and had two sons. She served as a sounding board for hisscientific ideas and helped to check the math in his papers, buteventually their relationship disintegrated. Einstein offered her adeal. He would win the Nobel Prize someday, he said; if she gave him adivorce, he would give her the prize money. She thought for a week andaccepted. Because his theories were so radical, it was seventeen yearsafter his miraculous outpouring from the patent office before he wasawarded the prize and she collected.

Einstein's life and work reflected the disruption of societalcertainties and moral absolutes in the modernist atmosphere of the earlytwentieth century. Imaginative nonconformity was in the air: Picasso,Joyce, Freud, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and others were breakingconventional bonds. Charging this atmosphere was a conception of theuniverse in which space and time and the properties of particles seemedbased on the vagaries of observations.

Einstein, however, was not truly a relativist, even though that is howhe was interpreted by many, including some whose disdain was tinged byanti-Semitism. Beneath all of his theories, including relativity, was aquest for invariants, certainties, and absolutes. There was a harmoniousreality underlying the laws of the universe, Einstein felt, and the goalof science was to discover it.

His quest began in 1895, when as a 16-year-old he imagined what it wouldbe like to ride alongside a light beam. A decade later came his miracleyear, described in the letter above, which laid the foundations for thetwo great advances of twentieth-century physics: relativity and quantumtheory.

A decade after that, in 1915, he wrested from nature his crowning glory,one of the most beautiful theories in all of science, the general theoryof relativity. As with the special theory, his thinking had evolvedthrough thought experiments. Imagine being in an enclosed elevatoraccelerating up through space, he conjectured in one of them. Theeffects you'd feel would be indistinguishable from the experience ofgravity.

Gravity, he figured, was a warping of space and time, and he came upwith the equations that describe how the dynamics of this curvatureresult from the interplay between matter, motion, and energy. It can bedescribed by using another thought experiment. Picture what it would belike to roll a bowling ball onto the two-dimensional surface of atrampoline. Then roll some billiard balls. They move toward the bowlingball not because it exerts some mysterious attraction but because of theway it curves the trampoline fabric. Now imagine this happening in thefour-dimensional fabric of space and time. Okay, it's not easy, butthat's why we're no Einstein and he was.

The exact midpoint of his career came a decade after that, in 1925, andit was a turning point. The quantum revolution he had helped to launchwas being transformed into a new mechanics that was based onuncertainties and probabilities. He made his last great contributions toquantum mechanics that year but, simultaneously, began to resist it. Hewould spend the next three decades, ending with some equations scribbledwhile on his deathbed in 1955, stubbornly criticizing what he regardedas the incompleteness of quantum mechanics while attempting to subsumeit into a unified field theory.

Both during his thirty years as a revolutionary and his subsequentthirty years as a resister, Einstein remained consistent in hiswillingness to be a serenely amused loner who was comfortable notconforming. Independent in his thinking, he was driven by an imaginationthat broke from the confines of conventional wisdom. He was that oddbreed, a reverential rebel, and he was guided by a faith, which he worelightly and with a twinkle in his eye, in a God who would not play diceby allowing things to happen by chance.

Einstein's nonconformist streak was evident in his personality andpolitics as well. Although he subscribed to socialist ideals, he was toomuch of an individualist to be comfortable with excessive state controlor centralized authority. His impudent instincts, which served him sowell as a young scientist, made him allergic to nationalism, militarism,and anything that smacked of a herd mentality. And until Hitler causedhim to revise his geopolitical equations, he was an instinctive pacifistwho celebrated resistance to war.

His tale encompasses the vast sweep of modern science, from theinfinitesimal to the infinite, from the emission of photons to theexpansion of the cosmos. A century after his great triumphs, we arestill living in Einstein's universe, one defined on the macro scale byhis theory of relativity and on the micro scale by a quantum mechanicsthat has proven durable even as it remains disconcerting.

His fingerprints are all over today's technologies. Photoelectric cellsand lasers, nuclear power and fiber optics, space travel, and evensemiconductors all trace back to his theories. He signed the letter toFranklin Roosevelt warning that it may be possible to build an atombomb, and the letters of his famed equation relating energy to masshover in our minds when we picture the resulting mushroom cloud.

Einstein's launch into fame, which occurred when measurements madeduring a 1919 eclipse confirmed his prediction of how much gravity bendslight, coincided with, and contributed to, the birth of a new celebrityage. He became a scientific supernova and humanist icon, one of the mostfamous faces on the planet. The public earnestly puzzled over histheories, elevated him into a cult of genius, and canonized him as asecular saint.

If he did not have that electrified halo of hair and those piercingeyes, would he still have become science's preeminent poster boy?Suppose, as a thought experiment, that he had looked like a Max Planckor a Niels Bohr. Would he have remained in their reputational orbit,that of a mere scientific genius? Or would he still have made the leapinto the pantheon inhabited by Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton?

The latter, I believe, is the case. His work had a very personalcharacter, a stamp that made it recognizably his, the way a Picasso isrecognizably a Picasso. He made imaginative leaps and discerned greatprinciples through thought experiments rather than by methodicalinductions based on experimental data. The theories that resulted wereat times ... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From The Washington Post

Reviewed by Michael Dirda

In the wonderland realm described by Einstein's theory of special relativity, simultaneity generally proves to be an illusion, but in the world of publishing, two good studies of the same subject will often appear at roughly the same time. Then, alas, a variant of another scientific doctrine -- Gresham's law -- typically goes into effect: One book tends to drive out the other.

Walter Isaacson's hefty biography of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) appears with lots of panoply -- including 11 blurbs by noted scientists and biographers -- and the author provides a thorough and patient account of a great thinker's life and achievements. The tone is rightly admiring, though fully aware of the saintly scientist's darker side -- at least one illegitimate child, several mistresses, a coldness to his family that verged on heartlessness and cruelty. The prose is straightforward and clear, essential when explaining complex ideas, though sometimes feeling airless or straitjacketed, as if Isaacson were afraid of making a mistake or showing any personal feeling. Like other popularizers before him, he works hard to explain Einstein's conceptual breakthroughs and to lay out his decades-long arguments with Niels Bohr and the progenitors of quantum mechanics. For, sad to say, after the age of 40, this once-revolutionary thinker grew increasingly conservative and stuck in his ways, never bringing himself to fully accept indeterminacy, uncertainty and chance as the secret governors of the universe. In a famous catchphrase, Einstein couldn't believe that God played with dice, and for decades he kept up the search for a "unified field theory" that would make sense of everything. Einstein: His Life and Universe covers all this and much else in a painstaking and reliable biography. You won't go wrong in reading and learning from it.

But Jurgen Neffe's exhilarating Einstein: A Biography is a lot more fun. At first, Neffe might sound like a German counterpart to Isaacson. Both are distinguished journalists, Neffe having won the Egon Erwin Kisch Award, "the most prestigious award for print journalism in Germany." While Isaacson is currently the CEO of the Aspen Institute, the German writer is affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. The Neffe biography was even a bestseller in Germany, as Isaacson's earlier life of Benjamin Franklin was in the United States. Yet the two authors approach Albert Einstein quite differently, the American having written a rather stolid, even "Teutonic" study, while the German has produced a much jazzier one.

Neffe's zingy, dramatic style -- for which we must offer congratulations to his translator, Shelley Frisch -- sometimes calls to mind the New Yorker's John McPhee: His pages are rich in odd facts, take us deep into what one might call the Einstein industry and display both reverence for the genius and lèse-majesté before the man. While Isaacson diligently marches us through Einstein's life, thought and career, Neffe tends to be more freewheeling and thematic -- one of his chapters is titled "How Albert Became Einstein: The Psychological Makeup of a Genius"; another is called "The Burden of Inheritance: Einstein Detectives in Action." Yet Neffe's swagger and ease don't hide the fact that he's mastered a vast amount of material: He knows 20th-century German history, the development of physics since Galileo, the work of contemporary psychologists and philosophers on the nature of genius and media celebrity. Virtually all of Isaacson's references are to publications in English, and his book sometimes feels like a reporter's distillation of what others have discovered. By contrast, Neffe appears to have worked a bit harder and thought more for himself. For example, Isaacson tells us that Mozart was Einstein's favorite composer, but Neffe adds that the "Sonata for Piano and Violin in E Minor" was his favorite piece. He also discusses Einstein's cultural tastes, which were so deeply old-fashioned that the physicist found nearly all 20th-century art and music utterly incomprehensible or repellent, especially the works influenced by his own ideas. Furthermore, Neffe offers detailed information about the Einstein family's engineering business, which specialized in installing electric lighting, and shows how a boyhood spent around technical equipment influenced his later thought-experiments.

While discussing the crucial impact on the young Einstein's imagination of Aaron Bernstein's 20-volume Popular Books on Natural Science, Isaacson naturally draws on the major study in English of this formative reference work. But Neffe seems to have actually gone and read the books themselves, citing Bernstein more than 15 times, by volume and page number. He reveals through exact quotation how much Einstein's later formulations about gravity, light and space-time echo actual sentences from a child's introduction to the wonders of science. While the German's biography tends to focus on the youthful Einstein and on his cultural as well as scientific afterlife, Isaacson tells us more about the great man's years in America (from 1932 till his death), carefully narrates his involvement with the atomic bomb and movingly elucidates both his mature thinking about religion (God, he believed, could be found in the laws that ordered the universe) and his growing activism on behalf of world government. Isaacson's is, in this respect, the fuller life. But it would be a pity if his account completely overshadowed Neffe's, which is more personal, original and exciting. The latter, for instance, underscores that Einstein's English vocabulary was probably no more than a few hundred words and that the great man was often largely incomprehensible in our language. All his assistants at Princeton had to speak German.

For most of us, Albert Einstein remains the emblematic genius-holy man of modern science -- part Gandhi, part absent-minded professor, part wide-eyed child. (Neffe notes that Steven Spielberg modeled E.T.'s kindly and sorrowful eyes after those of Einstein.) In his later years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the physicist probably did become something close to a "Jewish saint" and sage, as he's often been described, but both biographies portray the younger Einstein as a man of unexpected, and sometimes unlikable, contradictions and polarities. As a student, he got a classmate pregnant, sent her away to have the baby (which he refused to see) and then apparently made the young woman give up the child for adoption. He regarded both of his wives as essentially caretakers, their main obligation being to see to his domestic needs. In the case of his first wife, he compelled her to forgo a promising scientific career and then treated her shabbily. He hardly ever saw their mentally ill younger son, whom he dismissed as degenerate.

After claiming for years to despise all forms of nationalism, Einstein nonetheless became an enthusiastic Zionist. He spoke up strongly for pacifism throughout the 1920s, but once Hitler rose to power, he grew full of martial anti-Nazi ardor. This isn't to say that he was wrong to embrace his Jewish identity or to fear Hitler's evil, but his ideological flip-flops are nonetheless disconcerting. Similarly, he initiated the development of the atomic bomb as a weapon against the hated Third Reich, yet deplored its use on Japan. He was largely indifferent to the victims of Stalin's show trials and purges but strongly supported the Pugwash conferences for world peace. What's more, this childlike genius absolutely required full-time assistants, housekeepers and support staff to live his simple, Spartan life. He also clearly loved publicity, women and sleep (Neffe tells us he generally slept at least 10 hours a night and often took naps). Though Einstein's may be the very face of scientific genius, he never really advanced much in his thought after winning the Nobel Prize in 1921 and, despite being widely revered, gradually lost touch with the cutting edge of physics.

After finishing some biographies, readers often feel an increased admiration for the subject. This isn't true for Einstein. More and more, he seems almost as flawed a human being as Pablo Picasso, John F. Kennedy and so many other icons of the 20th century. Read either of these two books and that well-known face will never look quite the same again. Still, it probably doesn't matter very much. Einstein provides one case when we might surely say: It's the thought that counts.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Walter Isaacson (Benjamin Franklin **** Sept/Oct 2003) is the first biographer to gain access to Einstein's private archives, unsealed in 2006, and critics were delighted with the results. In this highly readable, articulate book, Isaacson brings the eminent scientist to life, dismissing myths (for example, that Einstein failed math) as well as recreating the world he inhabited and transformed. Aided by 21st-century scientists like Brian Greene, Isaacson explains Einstein's theories in laymen's terms, with varying results: most critics found the explanations easy to follow; a few did not. A thorough grasp of physics, however, isn't necessary to appreciate Isaacson's feat: he writes with affection and deep admiration for his subject, but he doesn't ignore his failings.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.