The Life of Einstein


Albert Einstein’s scientific achievements won him not only the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, but a world-wide reputation for brilliance and genius. This short course explains some of Einstein’s most important scientific ideas and also introduces Einstein as a person: his family background, his personal life, and his relationship with the world beyond scientific circles.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone who enjoys physics, science and history. You do not need to know any mathematics to follow the lectures!

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • Learnt the basic narrative of Einstein’s biography
  • Understand in a non-mathematical way Einstein’s role in launching the revolution of Quantum Mechanics
  • Understand in a non-mathematical way the importance and consequences of Einstein’s theory of gravity
  • Appreciate how Einstein’s background as a German-speaking Jew shaped his life experiences.


Course outline:
Each session includes two 1-hour lecture presentations and time for questions and discussion.

Session 1:
Part 1. Einstein’s Family and Upbringing
Part 2. Einstein and the Quantum Revolution

Session 2:
Part 1. Relativity and Einstein’s theory of Gravity
Part 2. Einstein as Global Icon

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Alexander Maxwell did a double Bachelor of Arts and Science degree in Physics and History at the University of California, Davis, United States before completing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin, United States. He is senior lecturer in history at Victoria University of Wellington.


“Alexander Maxwell is a gifted and thought-provoking lecturer. I enjoy the way he challenges the class to approach topics from a different perspective than may have been taught traditionally. He knows his topic well and shares it with enthusiasm. I would certainly go to more lecture series given by him”, The Second World War as seen from Germany participant (2019)

“It was a bit of a whirlwind - thousands of years of history, condensed into 8 hours - but what a ride!”, From Persia to Iran: A short history participant (2019)

“Great course! Alexander made the topic easy to understand”, Science and the Stars: A brief history of astrophysics participant (2018)

“Hope there are more courses run by Dr Maxwell. His teaching style is excellent and engages us, the audience. His research was excellent”, Science and the Stars: A brief history of astrophysics participant (2018)

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140
Phone 04 463 6556, Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.