Holstein studied at New York University, earning a Bachelor's degree in 1935 a PhD in 1940. His thesis Passage of Neutrons through Ferromagnetic Materials was supervised by Otto Halpern. His Master's degree was earned at Columbia University in 1936. From 1941 he worked in a research lab at Westinghouse Electric Corporation. In 1960, he left Westinghouse and became a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1965 he became a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
His most notable contribution to atomic physics was in 1947 when he was the first to treat the capture of resonance radiation in gases correctly (later applied in laser physics, astrophysics and photochemistry, but was also applied to phonons and in the solid state).
Other significant papers included the polaron (introduction of the small polaron), infrared absorption of metals, a microscopic theory of the collision drag phenomenon by Brian Pippard, Bloch Electrons in magnetic fields (Hall effect) and his review on the transport properties in an electron-phonon gas. He corrected the Förster-Dexter theory of photoinduced energy transfer between molecules and found new mechanisms for energy transfer in disordered systems.
Orbach, Raymond L., ed. (1987). Condensed Matter Physics: The Theodore D. Holstein Symposium. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-0-387-96528-4.
- Theodore Holstein at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
- "Holstein, Theodore David, 1915-1985". history.aip.org. Retrieved 2019-11-29.
- Holstein, T.; Primakoff, H. (1940-12-15). "Field Dependence of the Intrinsic Domain Magnetization of a Ferromagnet". Physical Review. 58 (12): 1098–1113. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.58.1098.
- Holstein, T. (1947-12-15). "Imprisonment of Resonance Radiation in Gases". Physical Review. 72 (12): 1212–1233. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.72.1212.
- Holstein, T (1959-11-01). "Studies of polaron motion: Part I. The molecular-crystal model". Annals of Physics. 8 (3): 325–342. doi:10.1016/0003-4916(59)90002-8. ISSN 0003-4916.
- "Theodore Holstein". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 2019-11-29.