Einstein looms large over Johnson's narrative, as do others who sought to harness the forces of nature and society: men like Mao Zedong, "a big, brutal, earthy and ruthless peasant," and Adolf Hitler, creator of "a brutal, secure, conscience-less, successful, and, for most Germans, popular regime." Johnson takes a contentious conservative viewpoint throughout: he calls the 1960s "America's suicide attempt," deems the Watergate affair "a witch-hunt ... run by liberals in the media," and deems the rise of Margaret Thatcher a critical element in Western civilization's "recovery of freedom"--arguable propositions all, but ones advanced in a stimulating and well-written narrative that provides much food for thought in the course of its more than 800 pages. --Gregory McNamee
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Albert Einstein revolutionized science with his theory of relativity, first published in 1903, and was influential in persuading FDR of the potential for atomic weapons in World War II. The Watergate scandal began as a botched burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in 1968.