Personality of Albert Einstein
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
1. Getting to know Albert Einstein
He had grey frazzled hair and a thick moustache that hid his timid smile. The dreamy look in his eyes made it seem as though he was constantly pondering the mysteries of the universe. Albert Einstein’s face is unique and unforgettable. He was a legendary physicist of Jewish descent from Germany, acclaimed for his contribution to the development of theoretical physics, honoured with a Nobel Prize, and thus rightfully regarded as one of the top scientists of the 20th century. Both his name and his distinctive appearance are universal symbols of intelligence, of the human mind’s superior achievements, and of the Jewish resistance against the Nazis.
Although best known for his academic feats , his special appearance exuded an almost magical aura of charm. What made an instant impression on everyone were his large, bright eyes, always expressing his restless spirit and the depth of his thoughtful mind. His tousled hair was all over the place, while a little shy smile peeped out from under his grey moustache. Both his voice and his expressions brought out a childlike innocence, a trait that he maintained throughout his life. He never paid very much attention to his clothes, preferring to wear comfortable sweaters and baggy trousers, and often forgetting to even put on his socks. In one of his official portraits, painted by Winifred Rieber, he is seen wearing a dark suit and a white collared shirt. The artist is quoted as saying of him: “Everything about him is electric. Even his silences are charged”.
His most famous achievement, the theory of relativity, great influenced the development of science by laying the basis for the discovery of atomic energy. It is as if, through the unified field theory, he sought a higher power that defined and united the universe, blurring the boundaries between science and religion. His work – undoubtedly radical by contemporary standards – expressed his free, bright spirit and his ability to discern meanings behind certain events that no one else could comprehend. It was not so much his knowledge that helped him formulate his theories as his rich imagination. Unlike other scientists he did not like to work in laboratories, nor did he use expensive equipment; all he needed was a pencil, a piece of paper, and his sharp mind.
Growing up, Einstein faced many hardships that shaped his unique and radical way of thinking and perceiving things. Not only did he have a difficult temperament as a child, but his learning difficulties did not help him earn his teachers’ favour either. In addition, as a Jew living under the threat of antisemitism, he had to learn to control and manage his own life from an early age. He drew inspiration from simple everyday things around him, past theories by his favourite scientists and philosophers, scientific conversations with his friends, his work experience in a patent office, and, above all else, his innate curiosity for the world around him and his hunger for discovering the truth. As he himself said: “I live and I feel puzzled, and all the time I try to understand.”
“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
2. Albert Einstein’s personality
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and looking deep into his life and work, Einstein most likely belonged to the ‘Thinker’ personality type. A Thinker stands out due to his or her brilliant theories and intelligence, and makes decisions in a rational, logical manner. Einstein had an astonishing ability to spot inconsistencies in theories that other scientists would not even consider to be up for discussion. His revolutionary ideas also led him to identify ways to improve them, just as he did with Newton’s theory on the stability of space and time; until then, this theory had been widely accepted by the scientific community without the level of scrutiny that Einstein applied.
Like most Thinkers, Einstein was an introvert. He used to describe himself as a loner; his friends, however, vividly remembered his compelling aura and the way his loud laughter stood in contrast to his otherwise calm voice. Although he loved spending time with the women in his life and had fun with his friends, all he wanted to do at the end of the day was to retire to the quiet of his office; even when married, he often preferred to sleep alone. Discussions with his colleagues gave him food for thought, but the conception and formulation of his theories was a purely internal process. To the outside world, he seemed to be a shy, timid man and, not wanting to be the centre of attention, he often avoided crowded places on purpose. He hated public speaking as well as posing for pictures. He had the confidence to express himself freely around his friends, but too much intimacy overwhelmed him. It may not be a coincidence that even his closest friends, whom he had known for years, did not call him by his first name.
Just like every other typical Thinker, he did not let petty, everyday issues occupy his thoughts. Things such as meals and household chores were taken care of by his wives. He, on the other hand, had dedicated his life to an unhindered search for the truth about the universe. When he was in an environment that allowed him to express his creativity and use his genius, he would work countless hours and channel all his energy into the scientific questions he was trying to answer, which sometimes left him exhausted and drained his health. Money and fame did not mean anything to him: his personality was far too unconventional to pursue such futile goals. Instead, it was the simple things in life that made him happy, such as playing his violin or taking a boat ride, and the only recognition that mattered to him was the respect of his peers.
In terms of his approach to thinking, Einstein made decisions based on logic rather than emotion; as a scientist, he focused on facts instead of subjective human sentiments. However, his excessive adherence to logic did not allow him to listen to other people’s feelings – nor even to his own – and therefore meet their needs. Perhaps this is the reason why his loved ones, such as his wife and children, complained that he neglected them. Perhaps this is also why those around him had the impression of a calm, equable, and carefree man, while in fact his inability to verbalise his intense and fluctuating emotions caused him various health problems.
He did want to make other people happy, generously offering his help even to strangers, and seeming to prefer giving rather than taking in his relationships. However, constantly absorbed as he was by the unanswered questions that filled his mind, he gave the impression of a distant dreamer, which is a very common trait amongst Thinkers. During the most difficult times of his life, he focused all his attention on his work and would dive into his books in an attempt to escape from his personal problems or other situations he found bothersome. This is not uncommon among scientists, who often turn to natural phenomena and numbers when the rest of the world seems too much to handle.
3. From his birth to adolescence
“A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?”
Einstein was born as the first child of the family on 14 March 1879 in Ulm, a city in the German state of Württemberg. In the following years, his mother gave birth to six more children. His mother, Pauline Koch, came from a very rich family, while his father, Hermann, had taken over the Einstein family business, an electrical engineering company named ‘Einstein & Cie’, which was unfortunately on the verge of collapse. As a newborn, Albert had an oversized head, an indication perhaps of his future as a genius, and was unusually fat, causing his parents to worry about developmental issues. It took him years to utter his first words and, even then, he was not a very talkative child; only his loved ones had the honour to hear him speak, probably an early sign of his introversion.
Einstein’s life in Munich
When Albert was still a baby, his family moved to Munich to give their business a fresh start. However, the competition there was just as fierce, and they barely made ends meet. However, Hermann was a determined man and endured all hardships. Although it is believed that, in most families, the first child receives extra attention and care, this wasn’t the case for little Albert; in fact, his parents would even leave him to wander around the city all alone before the age of four. Perhaps they did not realise yet how gifted he was – after all, how could such a special personality have evolved out of ordinary, everyday situations?
However, one could say that parents who give small children so much freedom are in fact asking them and expecting them to behave like grown-ups, forcing them to mature prematurely to fit this role.
At one point, his mother took the initiative to hire a violin teacher, but five-year-old Albert did not seem excited by the idea of learning to play. In fact, he greeted the teacher with a terrible outburst of anger, trying to hit her with a chair; she ended up leaving the house almost at a run. However, his mother did not give up and hired another instructor who had her own way of teaching. Despite his initial reaction, and after a few years of lessons, Albert came to love playing the violin, and it became an integral part of his life.
Later, he discovered his talent on the piano too. He enjoyed discovering new songs which he then enriched with elements of his own creation.He was a lonely child and was very reserved around other children, not liking to get involved in quarrels. Conversely, he did sometimes become aggressive with his sister, Maja; once, in fact, he hit her on the head with a shovel.
Einstein’s school years
Einstein’s fascination with physics and the mechanics of the world around him was sparked almost accidentally when his father Hermann brought him a magnetic compass to play with as a gift. He struggled to find out what seemingly magic power made the needle always point to the magnetic north. However, this wonderful interest remained obscure during his early school years. His teachers thought that he had an intellectual disability because he had difficulty learning his lessons by heart and was reluctant to answer their questions; apparently, no one had thought that he could be afraid because every wrong answer would result in them caning him across his hands. His classmates similarly found him strange because he did not like sports. What he liked the most was Latin, and later Algebra and Geometry, which he considered to be a ‘sacred’ subject. The search for a solution to each geometry problem fascinated him and sparked his curiosity.
However, in addition to mathematics, Albert had another favourite subject. Although his parents were Jewish, they did not practice their religion at all, nor did they ever discuss God with their children until a relative introduced their twelve-year-old son to worship. Albert became so obsessed with religion that he even composed his own songs in praise of God. His enthusiasm lasted for about a year, until he began to study philosophy and discovered that one of his favourite thinkers, Immanuel Kant, called God’s existence in question. He abandoned his blind faith in God, but he never stopped believing in the order and harmony of the Universe, which he slowly discovered through the sciences.
Einstein’s loneliness at boarding school
When Albert turned 15 years old, his family decided to move to Genoa, Italy, to start a new business. Their son stayed behind in Munich, where he faced the next few lonely years at a boarding school, without a friend or relative by his side, until his graduation. As if that were not enough, he found it extremely difficult to keep up with his lessons and thus often smiled awkwardly in the classroom without participating. Once, his Ancient Greek teacher became so irritated by his smile, which she interpreted as ironic, that she began insulting him in front of his classmates. The feeling of abandonment became stronger by the day, and the young man was on the verge of a mental breakdown. The solution was given by a random visit to the doctor. Concerned about Albert’s health, the doctor notified the school, which then granted him an exemption from his student and military obligations.
Relieved at how things had turned out, Albert traveled to Genoa to meet his family, and, within just a few months, his mood slowly took a turn for the better as he became joyful once more and made new friends. At the age of 16, Albert decided to enroll in the engineering department of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich. He sat the university entrance exams but failed in the subjects in which he had no interest. However, the professors were still impressed by this aspiring scientist’s incredible performance in Mathematics and Physics. Since he was a few years younger than the other candidates, they allowed him to enter the school next year without even being re-examined, simply holding high school diploma.
Dyslexic or gifted?
There is a myth around Albert Einstein’s name that attributes his peculiarities and learning difficulties to dyslexia. There are two main reasons for this assumption: not only did he start talking a little later compared to most children, but he wasn’t a good student and he could not memorise random texts and information. Also, as is often the case with children with dyslexia, his IQ was high but his performance in school exams was low, and teachers considered him to be a lazy and indifferent child with behavioural problems.
However, by taking a closer look into his character and reactions, one may find that he was probably a gifted child. Gifted children develop a completely different way of thinking and display a broad range of behaviours that often brings them into conflict with their environment. They are driven by their curiosity and have various interests. They have an appetite for learning, liking to discover new things and follow up on their own interests, while often also showing a particular penchant for music. For these children, learning requires freedom, and thus they learn best when they learn alone.
On the other hand, gifted children may react negatively to learning if their environment does not allow them to pursue their real passions and precludes or limits exploration of their interests. Gifted children suffer extreme boredom when not challenged, thus frequently experiencing behavioural problems. If parents and teachers fail to recognise their special abilities and do not provide them with enough opportunities to cultivate them, then these children are at great risk of poor school performance. Some gifted children tend to over-engage with their favourite subject, completely neglecting the study of everything else. Outbursts of anger and even aggressive behaviour are common among these children when they feel that others do not understand their spiritual or emotional needs, especially when adults try to force them go through a process with which they disagree.
Whether Einstein was dyslexic, gifted, or maybe even both, is a difficult question to answer. One thing, however, is certain: the educational system of the time was unable to identify his special needs and talents, and so create an appropriate learning environment for him.
4. Albert Einstein at the Zürich Polytechnic
“You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.”
Albert Einstein’s first love, Marie Winteler
In order to obtain the necessary high school diploma, Albert enrolled in a German-speaking high school in Zürich. He lived in the house of a teacher named Jost Winteler, who looked after him as if he were his own child and included him in the family’s birdwatching trips in the Swiss forests every Saturday. As time went on, Albert fell in love with Marie, Winteler’s charming daughter, although the two rarely had the opportunity to spend time alone aside from their nature excursions. It was music that brought them closer: together, Marie would play the piano and Albert the violin. During the summer holiday, Albert sent Marie letters containing promises of his eternal love for her, writing: “You mean more to my soul than the whole world did before.”
However, their romance did not last more than a year. As soon as Albert left the Wintelers’ house to enter the University of Zürich, his classmate Mileva Marić began to attract his attention. He continued to write to Marie for a few more months, acting as though nothing were amiss, before one day he suddenly stopped responding to her letters altogether, not offering any explanation and hurting her deeply.
Albert and Mileva
Mileva was four years older than Albert, a brave, dark-haired girl of Serbian descent who was the only female student in the university’s Physics department. She was not considered a beauty by most of her classmates and walked with a noticeable limp due to a congenital hip displacement. Perhaps what brought Albert and Mileva closer was a feeling of being different from their classmates.
The relationship between the pair took a while to develop because, after a few months, Mileva departed for another university. At first, Mileva did not seem very interested in maintaining contact with Albert across such a long distance. However, when her first letter arrived a few weeks later, it informed him that she would be returning to Zürich. Four months later – as if he did not care all that much – Albert sent her his reply. During the time they spent apart from each other, Mileva would complain about the fact that Albert scarcely ever sent her letters. On the rare occasion that he did reply, however, he would fill whole pages with detailed descriptions of his daily life, full of enthusiasm for his future plans.
As time passed, Albert fell more and more in love with her, until he eventually decided that he had to marry her. There was, however, one obstacle to his dreams: his parents did not even want to hear about her. From the beginning of the relationship, Albert’s mother did not approve of Mileva, thinking her ugly and problematic due to the issue with her hip. When Albert announced his intention to marry Mileva, his mother fell on her bed and burst into tears, screaming that his future bride would ruin his life. Although her angry outburst lasted for several hours, Albert did not give in to this pressure – in fact, it only served to upset him and make him desperately seek a way out of this painful situation. At first, he locked himself in his room and became absorbed in a book by physicist Gustav Kirchoff, but as soon as the opportunity arose, he left with his sister for a short, refreshing break in the mountains.
5. Einstein’s difficult years
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
A tough job-hunt
After his graduation from the University of Zürich, Einstein faced a great struggle in finding a job and becoming financially independent. None of his professors wanted him as an assistant because he was a disobedient student and did not hesitate to question their authority in a way that they considered arrogant anddefiant. Once, he even refused to follow the instructions of a Chemistry experiment in class, causing a small explosion in the laboratory. His sharpness impressed one of his teachers, but later he told him: “You’re a clever fellow, Einstein, but you have one fault. You won’t let anyone tell you a thing.” The situation was certainly further aggravated by the antisemitism he faced in contemporary Swiss society as a person of Jewish heritage.
Eventually, Einstein seemed to have some good luck. He was hired as a mathematics teacher at a technical school in Winterthur, where he discovered that he loved teaching. However, it was not to last: although his intelligence and humour earned him the love of his pupils, the school’s headmaster wanted his staff to instill discipline in the students and did not agree with Einstein’s relaxed approach to teaching. As a result, Einstein was fired just a few months later.
This setback came at an extremely bad time for the young scientist. Not only had his parents’ business gone bankrupt, but also Mileva, who had been living with her family in Croatia, had just given birth to a baby girl following a pregnancy that they had hidden from the rest of the Einstein family. During the first few months, Einstein’s letters to Mileva were filled with questions about his newborn child; later, however, all mentions of the little girl ceased without explanation. It is probably that, not having enough money to raise their baby daughter themselves, they gave her up for adoption.
The death of Einstein’s father
In June 1902, following long period of unemployment, Einstein got a job in a patent office in Bern as an assistant examiner. His task was simple: he evaluated patent applications, deciding whether the inventions were deserving of patent protection and whether they actually worked. In October of the same year, just as his life seemed to be getting in order for the first time, his father passed away due to heart disease. Einstein traveled to Italy to say his final goodbye while his father, though bedridden, was still alive. In his final moments, his father gave his consent to his marriage to Mileva. Years later, Einstein spoke of his father’s death as one of the most shocking events of his life. He could never forgive himself for not trying to prevent his father from undertaking the reckless business ventures that caused him so much stress and led him to his death. He would go on to say that he would rather have died himself instead of his father.
The Olympia Academy
In January 1903, Mileva joined Albert in Bern, where they were married in a simple civil ceremony with only two of their friends in attendance. During the following period, Einstein devoted himself to his work and his spiritual pursuits. He met several times a week with a group of friends whom he engaged in lively, constructive discussions on scientific and philosophical topics. Mocking the snobbish circles of the time, they called themselves ‘The Olympia Academy’”. Sometimes Einstein participated wholeheartedly in their conversations, full of passion and laughter, while on other occasions he was quiet and seemed absorbed in his own thoughts. The members of the group looked forward to their meetings and there was even an unspoken rule that no one should ever be absent. Once, Einstein’s close friend Solovine, who was a music lover, missed a meeting to attend a concert. To punish him, his friends filled his room with cigarette smoke, which he hated, and hid his bed under a pile of chairs, books, and other items.
Mileva was often present at their meetings as well, but she rarely ever took part in their conversations. She had a reputation for being rather unapproachable, and many secretly accused her of no longer sharing her husband’s enthusiasm for his ideas. However, it is highly possible that she was still suffering inside after being forced to give her child away, a secret that none of them knew. Perhaps the birth of their second child, their son Hans Albert, in May 1904 alleviated her sorrow a little.
6. Albert Einstein’s teaching career
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity and other innovative ideas
To the outside world, Einstein seemed like a calm and dreamy thinker, but inside he was trying to cope with a great deal of pressure. He tended to push himself too far, even to the verge of a mental breakdown, especially at times when he was struggling to find answers to scientific problems. However, it was at one such time that he came up with the Theory of Special Relativity. He used to discuss his scientific concerns for hours with his friends, but one morning he awoke suddenly knowing the solution as if it had come to him in a dream. Contemplating the fact that the estimation of space and time depend on subjective experience, he devised his theorem, influenced by the work of the physicist Ernst Mach and the philosopher David Hume. In June 1905, he sent a detailed analysis of his idea to the scientific journal ‘Annalen der Physik’. The paper was called ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’ and presented a highly revolutionary idea, as it overturned Newton’s hitherto accepted theory that space and time were absolute.
Within a year, he had submitted three more papers to the same journal. In his article ‘On a Heuristic Point of View about the Creation and Conversion of Light’, he concluded that electromagnetic radiation itself consists of particles of energy (hν) and laid the foundations of quantum mechanics. He wrote many more articles and papers, such as ‘A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions’, which was inspired by the observation of sugar grains dissolving in water, and ‘On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in Liquids at Rest Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat’, in which he proved the existence of atoms and created a formula for the study of their motion.
Einstein’s days as a professor in the Universities of Bern and Zürich
Although Einstein’s articles were accepted by the journal, they did not attract much interest from the rest of the scientific community, perhaps because his theories were too advanced for their time and seemed unrealistic to most physicists. However, with several publications to his name, the door to a teaching career opened for him. In the summer of 1908, he began as a professor at the University of Bern. The students attending his lectures were very few due not only to the early hour of the classes, but also to the stress that had overwhelmed him and the fact that he was properly prepared.
His brilliant mind, however, stood out and persuaded Professor Kleiner to promote him to the University of Zürich, where he began teaching in the summer of 1909. His new life as a professor and his intensive preoccupation with scientific matters were a source of both extreme excitement and high stress, the latter of which resulted in him suffering from frequent stomachaches. His teaching skills had improved and his students paid no more attention to his sloppy appearance or to his messy handwriting because, in their words, “after the first few sentences, he captured [their] hearts.” He was a friendly and approachable teacher and encouraged his students to interrupt him for questions anytime. At the end of the day, he used to meet them in a nearby café, or even at his house, to continue the discussion about the tasks that he assigned them. However, the fact that he treated his students as equals upset some of his more authoritarian colleagues.
The Einstein family in Prague
In 1911, Einstein took an extremely high-paying professorship in Prague and moved there with Mileva, Hans Albert, and their second son Eduard, who was already a year old. According to their friends, it was at this time that the couple’s relationship began to deteriorate, although they did not like to bring their problems out in the open. Mileva complained that her husband was often absent from home, travelling, working, and attending conferences. She was also jealous of his bond with his recently divorced cousin from Berlin, Elsa, to whom he had become very close. Judging by the letters that Einstein sent her, it seems that there was indeed something romantic going on between them, especially after Einstein revealed to Elsa that his love for her was taking him out of his misery and she asked him to destroy her letters. He confessed to Elsa that his relationship with his wife had gone cold, the communication between them had been lost, and that they were now sleeping in separate beds. According to his letters, he remained with her out of pity.
However, neither his feelings for the two women, nor his obligations as a father, seemed to interest him much; instead, the one constant focus of his passionate devotion was physics. One could therefore imagine his joy when he became an official member of a powerful academic society, the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
7. Albert Einstein’s Berlin Years
“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
Albert Einstein’s divorce with Mileva
In 1914, Einstein collaborated with the University of Berlin, where, now free from the obligation to give lectures, he could devote himself unhindered to his research work. His arrival in the German capital also marked the end of his marriage to Mileva, who disliked the city from the beginning and, indignant at the coldness with which her husband treated her and at the derogatory attitude of his mother, took the children and returned to Zürich. Following the outbreak of World War I, travelling from one country to another was very difficult, so their communication was limited to letters about his sons’ news. Einstein, who had no intention of neglecting his children despite the separation, gave them almost all his furniture, emptying his own apartment in the process, and sent them money regularly.
The theory of general relativity
Despite the frenzy of war in Germany, Einstein managed to stay focused on his research regarding the essence of the universe. For many weeks, he did nothing other than work until late into the night, sometimes even forgetting to eat, until at last he devised the theory of general relativity. According to his friend, the famous physicist Max Born, this was “the greatest feat of human thinking about nature, the most amazing combination of philosophical penetration, physical intuition, and mathematic skill.”.
The theory of general relativity is a theory of gravitation according to which gravity is not a physical force, but rather a manifestation of the curvature of spacetime caused by massive bodies and has enormous extensions, explaining the motion of the earth around the sun and the moon’s orbit around the earth. In his article ‘The foundation of the general theory of relativity’, published in the ‘Annalen der Physik’ in 1916, Einstein analyses his ideas on general relativity; in the book ‘Relativity: The Special and The General Theory: A Popular Exposition’, he gives a much more simple description of the subject.
Einstein’s marriage to Elsa Lowenthal
As a result of the stress and uncertainty caused by the war, the endless hours of work, and his separation from his family, Einstein suffered again from horrible stomach pains, eventually being diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. It was then that he moved in with Elsa Lowelnthal, who had by now become an integral part of his life, so that she could take care of him and cook for him. Yet, despite his ailing health, he kept working tirelessly on his theory, often without even leaving his room for days.
In June 1919, after his divorce with Mileva was finalised, Einstein married Elsa and, realising how much he needed a woman’s care and love, he moved in with her and her two daughters. His new wife’s house may have been spacious and full of luxurious furniture, but Albert remained unconventional. His bedroom was very simply furnished, without carpets or special decorations, as he hated excessive material goods and viewed them as a burden. In terms of his personal hygiene, he used a simple soap and rarely got a haircut.
Verifying the theory of relativity
In 1919, astrophysicist Arthur Eddington observed a total solar eclipse and confirmed the general theory of relativity. Einstein was suddenly in the spotlight of the scientific community for revolutionising the world of physics by introducing a new concept of the universe. However, Einstein was once again faced with the problem that many scientists of the time did not understand the meaning of his theory; those who did, or who at least pretended to, dismissed it as “ridiculous” and “impossible”, treating Einstein as deluded despite Eddington’s evidence. Some academics even called the theory “repugnant to commonsense”.
Einstein, however, defied commonsense: to him, it was nothing more than a useless prejudice that he did not hesitate to challenge. He chose to keep his distance from the controversy that erupted over the validity of his theory, stating that such issues should not be approached by logic, but rather by intuition.
Einstein becomes famous
The amount of controversy over Einstein’s theory soon attracted the attention of the press, and when the story made the headlines, Einstein found himself with an unprecedented worldwide reputation. Never had a scientist caused such a commotion in the world. He was admired for what many considered to be an almost supernatural intelligence, and children would even write to him to ask if he was real, which he always responded to with tenderness.
However, his popularity was not universal. He was far from the conventional picture of a scientist locked in his laboratory: he publicly expressed his opinions and support for world peace, which was viewed especially negatively as militaristic nationalism was surging in Germany at the time.
It was further compounded by the fact that he was Jewish in a society where antisemitic sentiment was on the rise. Professor Wilhelm Müller of the Technical College of Aachen argued that Einstein’s theory was the beginning of a “Jewish world rule”. Others sent Einstein threatening letters; an antisemitic student once even threatened to kill him. Einstein, however, adopted an optimistic approach to these situations, trying to defuse them with humour.
8. Einstein wins the Nobel Prize
“Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty. It stems rather from love and devotion towards men and towards objective things.”
Despite Einstein’s worldwide fame, the European scientific community still found reasons to disapprove of him. When, in 1922, he was invited to give a lecture at the Collège de France in Paris, people threatened to attack him and set up roadblocks around the building. It was obvious that, having lived most of his life in Germany, the French treated him with hostility due to the horrors that the Germans had caused during World War I. In Berlin, on the other hand, police warned him that an organisation was planning to kill him because of his Jewish heritage, and a lecture he had scheduled at the University of Leipzig was canceled because some nationalist students were distributing leaflets against his ‘Jewish’ theory of relativity.
In comparison, it was a surprise to receive great recognition upon his arrival in the United States, which he visited in 1921 to help raise money to support the birth of a Jewish state. He received a similarly enthusiastic welcome in Japan and China when he visited for a few lectures the following year. Einstein kept a low profile towards his admirers, unable to comprehend the reality of the situation. On the first night that he stayed in Tokyo, thousands of fans gathered and stayed up all night under his hotel balcony, cheering when they saw him in the morning. “No living being deserves this sort of reception,” he reportedly whispered to Elsa.
While on the return voyage from Tokyo, he was informed that, after eight rejected nominations, he had finally won the Nobel Prize in Physics. In addition to the antisemitic views of some committee members, he was also held back from the Nobel Prize for so long by their lack of understanding of the theory of relativity and their fear that it may prove invalid within a few years. Thus, it was his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect that ultimately won him the Prize, not the controversial theory of relativity. Trying to be a good father and to contribute in his own way to the upbringing of his sons, with whom he now had little contact, he gave the entire $32,500 award to Mileva instead of keeping it for himself.
Albert Einstein’s relationship with his sons
In 1928, two of Einstein’s best friends in Zürich, who helped Mileva raise her children, sent him letters accusing him of trying so hard not to spoil them that he had in fact reached the opposite extreme and had become provocatively indifferent towards them. Despite giving them his Nobel Prize winnings, he devoted almost no time to them, rarely meeting with them and being a rather cold and distant figure rather than supportive. When his elder son, Hans Albert, showed him his doctoral dissertation in Mathematics, Einstein, instead of encouraging him, rebuked him for not being able to state his conclusions better. His friends wondered how it could be possible that this man, who had spent months in America for a good cause and played the violin in public for charity, could neglect his own children this way. Perhaps it was his absence from their lives that led Hans Albert to ignore his father’s advice against marrying a woman that was nine years his senior and, in Einstein’s opinion, completely inappropriate. Perhaps his indifference also contributed to the behaviour of his younger son, Eduard, later.
Albert Einstein collapses through over-work
In April 1928, Einstein went to Leipzig to attend a patent case as an expert and was hosted by his friend Meinhardt. On his return to the house, tired as he was from both the trip and carrying his heavy luggage in the snow, he fainted on the doorstep. His friend initially thought that he had had a heart attack, but his doctor in Berlin diagnosed him with dilated cardiomyopathy. Carrying his heavy luggage had been the final straw: his extensive working hours, smoking habit, and long sessions of rowing his favourite boat even in bad weather had all contributed over time to his eventual collapse. His condition required him to rest and to quit smoking. With the help of his wife, Einstein eagerly followed the doctor’s instructions. Elsa, who not only had to take care of him day and night, but also deal with his endless correspondence, was, however, on the verge of burnout.
Einstein then realised that he needed to hire a secretary, which led Elsa to introduce him to Helen Dukas, the sister of a good friend of hers. Helen was very anxious during her first meeting with the famous Einstein, but he immediately made her feel comfortable with his good-natured humour. She stood by his side for twenty-seven years until his final days, mostly dealing with his correspondence and diet, and became a trusted friend to him, rather than just an employee.
Einstein’s Unified Field Theory
In 1929, Einstein came back stronger than ever with a new theory. Shortly after its publication by the Prussian Academy, hundreds of journalists came to his door trying to get a comment on his new mathematical formula, which they expected to decipher the secrets of the universe. All this publicity disturbed him. He eventually allowed a single reporter to enter his house and explained his article to him. In the end, Einstein said he could not understand why people were so interested in a simple natural theorem.
His goal was to combine the fundamental forces of nature together in a single theory, hence naming it a ‘unified field theory’. His explanation made this force seem like a supreme power ruling over the universe: “Now, but only now, we know that the force which moves electrons in their ellipses about the nuclei of atoms is the same force which moves our earth in its annual course about the sun, and is the same force which brings to us the rays of light and heat which makes life possible upon this planet.”. Einstein sold the manuscript of his theory and charged a fee for every autograph that he gave, donating the money to charity; in particular, he supported Soviet Jews who had taken refuge in Berlin.
The problems in his marriage with Elsa
Over time, the love and tenderness that had characterised the early years of the marriage between Einstein and Elsa had begun to fade away. There were serious differences between them. Elsa loved the limelight, whereas Einstein hated public appearances and found the reporters who chased them wherever they went annoying.
Furthermore, his apparent extramarital affairs had brought her to her limits. Rumours spread of Einstein’s connection to a beautiful woman of Austrian descent, Margarette Lebach, who paid them frequent visits at their new home in Caputh. During her visits, Elsa made sure to be absent from home all day long. Others spoke of a charming widow who passed by his house in a luxurious car and with whom he would attending evening music concerts. Although it is likely that these relationships were platonic rather than romantic, the rumours hurt Elsa and made her feel humiliated. However, she never left him, instead continuing to care for and protect him in an unconditional, somewhat motherly way.
Eduard Einstein’s mental illness
In 1930, Einstein’s 20-year-old son, Eduard, began sending him letters full of resentment, accusing Einstein of ruining his life by abandoning him and the rest of the family. Einstein realised that the situation was out of hand and rushed to go meet him. It was obvious that his son had long held mixed feelings for him: he loved and admired him, but he also took his absence as a personal rejection.
As a child, Eduard was remarkably intelligent. He had an excellent memory and was talented at both English and the piano. Later, he began his studies at the University of Zürich with the aim of becoming a psychiatrist, when a heartbreak hurt him irreversibly. At first, there were signs of depression and an unreasonable obsession with his father, but things later grew worse and Eduard was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In an attempt to treat him, Einstein sent him to the best psychoanalyst in Switzerland, but as his illness worsened, it seemed that there was no other choice than for him to be institutionalised for the rest of his life. He was never violent, but as soon as he left home, he forgot where he lived and often got lost.
Einstein, absorbed as he was by the world of science, did not usually let human dramas affect him, yet his son’s illness had a profound psychological impact on him. He accused Mileva of instilling hatred for him in their children, as well as of being responsible for their son’s inherited predisposition to psychosis, as her sister also suffered from the same mental disorder. His humour and spontaneous laughter disappeared for months,and grief seemed to greatly age him. According to Elsa, behind his seemingly calm face was an overly sensitive soul.
9. Einstein flees Germany
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Einstein’s political views put him in danger
Einstein openly expressed his pacifistic views and advocated for the establishment of a non-authoritative social democratic regime. Authoritarian regimes of all kinds, whether communist or fascist, clashed with his humanitarian and democratic ideals. When Robert Millikan invited him to the California Institute of Technology (popularly known as Caltech) in 1932 for a series of lectures, Einstein tried hard not to stray from his path, as many conservative politicians had offered him money and to pay for his travel expenses. However, at the end of his lectures, Einstein spoke in the presence of prominent academics about the urgent need for all the nations of the world to work together for world peace and proposed the implementation of a new economic system – possibly implying socialism – as a solution to the problem of poverty. In the same year, he attended the Geneva Peace Conference, where he encouraged all countries to lay down their arms and directly expressed his disapproval of the tactics pursued by Communist Russia, which oppressed the individual.
In the meantime, Nazi students, who sought to oust Jewish teachers from the country’s educational institutions, made his life in Berlin difficult. Although American universities were simultaneously trying to lure him to them with huge amounts of money, Einstein was reluctant to leave his quiet home in Caputh, where he lived away from all the fans and the press;in comparison, he considered the USA to be a very dangerous and noisy place to live. Elsa advised him to stop sharing his anti-Nazi views with the world, but he replied, apparently without a trace of fear: “If I was what you want me to be, I would not be Albert Einstein.”
Eventually, information from various sources that the lives of Jews in Germany were in grave danger persuaded him to leave for a few months in America, until things calmed down. He left just in time: in December of the same year, Hitler took power, and Nazi soldiers began attacking Jews and those they classed as dissidents.
Einstein wanted by the Nazis
In January 1933, Einstein and Elsa arrived in California and Einstein took up the position at Caltech. It was a great honour for the foundation to work with this brilliant personality, who attracted everyone around him like a magnet. An impressive number of people asked to attend the dinner hosted for his welcome, including distinguished scientists and high society ladies. They demanded to talk to him, even for a few minutes, and offered him their cigarettes, which he smoked with pleasure and finished in just three puffs.
Despite the respect and admiration that he commanded in America, back in Berlin, Nazi soldiers raided his house five times within two days looking for him. Instead they found Elsa’s daughters, Ilse and Margot, who had fortunately already sent his manuscripts to the French Embassy for safekeeping. The two women, in fear that they would be taken prisoners, then fled the country, Margot heading to Paris and Ilse to the Netherlands. In the days that followed, soldiers also raided and ransacked their house in Caputh, thinking that they would find Communist ammo because Einstein was rumoured to be collaborating with them. They must have been deeply disappointed when they found nothing more dangerous than a bread knife.
Einstein’s resignation from the Prussian Academy
In March of that same year, the members of the Prussian Academy asked Einstein to resign, terrified that Hitler would persecute them because they were friends and associates of his. He immediately did as requested, arriving in Antwerp, Belgium, a few days later to sign his resignation from the Academy. However, he did not accept the accusation that was levelled against him: that he had violated their tacit agreement as scientists not to interfere in political issues. He proudly replied that he did not feel any remorse for his statements, since he made them for the good of humanity. The danger he was facing did nothing to persuade him to stop making anti-Nazi statements in public. His supporters admired him for his bravery, while his enemies condemned him as a traitor to the nation.
In May, Nazi supporters lit a large fire in Berlin’s Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz (now Bebelplatz), where they burned thousands of books by prominent Jews and other intellectuals, including Einstein’s. The hatred against him peaked when they announced that they wanted him dead and that they would offer $5,000 to anyone who killed him. Einstein, however, was more impressed by how much his life was apparently worth to the Nazis than with the threat itself.
Perhaps at that time he was putting his fear for his own safety aside, as he was facing another unbearable drama. Leaving Antwerp for Switzerland, he met with his younger son Eduard, whose signs of schizophrenia had gotten worse. His brother, Hans Albert, attributed his worsening condition to the psychiatric clinic’s electric shock treatments. Unbeknownst to Einstein, this would be the last time he ever saw either Eduard or Mileva, as he would soon leave for America and never return to Europe again.
10. Albert Einstein at Princeton
“I hate crowds and making speeches. I hate facing cameras and having to answer a crossfire of questions. Why popular fancy should seize on me, a scientist, dealing in abstract things and happy if left alone, is a manifestation of mass psychology that is beyond me.”
In 1934, Einstein moved with Elsa and his secretary to Princeton, New Jersey, a hospitable place where he made good friends and had the respect of the State. In fact, during his first days there, he had the honour of meeting the President of the USA, Franklin Roosevelt, and the First Lady in the White House. No one knows exactly what the two men discussed that day; according to Elsa, the President wanted to confer honourary USA citizenship upon him,but Einstein, who did not want to be treated as someone special by anyone, declined. In any case, as he revealed to a close friend, there was no other country in the world that felt like home to him other than his homeland itself. As for his Jewish origin, he had never paid much attention to it until the antisemitism rife in German society at that time became a common enemy that brought him closer to the rest of the Jewish community
In his letters to his sister, who was then living in Italy, he described himself as a “hermit” who preferred to live in solitude, lost in his thoughts, rather than participate in the chatter that surrounded him. He avoided crowded places – more out of shyness than arrogance – as well as unwanted visitors, who he would get rid of by having Elsa come out of the kitchen with a tray of food, calling him to dinner. Despite this, his life was anything but lonely. He lived in the same house as his beloved wife, his devoted secretary, and stepdaughter Margot; sadly, Ilse had died of cancer shortly after her move to Paris. He often enjoyed the company of friends and relatives who visited him and was left by himself only when he wanted to rest or study. However, even when he was working, he was often kept company by two young physicists, Banesh Hoffmann and Leopold Infeld. He became fluent in English and, despite his slightly strange accent, he could easily hold conversations with locals. His openness to making new friends was perhaps due in part to missing his friends and associates back in Europe.
Einstein’s love for sailing
Despite the difficulties he had gone through in his life, Einstein was a child at heart. He had a strong need for play and his favourite way of having fun was to indulge his passion for sailing. He had never been taught how to sail a boat; he did not know the parts of a boat, nor any naval signals; he did not even know how to swim. However, he used to rent small boats and learned to steer them himself, completely intuitively. He never took life jackets or compasses with him, finding that he could orient himself easily enough without help, and he was not in the least afraid of storms, which often put him in trouble. There were times when the masts broke, and he remained stranded until someone came to help him. His adventurous spirit pushed him to make dangerous jokes to his friends when they went along. One day, while on a boat ride with his friend Leon Watters, he started approaching other boats as if he were about to crash into them, only changing direction at the last minute, while laughing at his friend’s frightened reaction.
Einstein’s mysterious illegitimate daughters
In 1936, while Einstein was in America, two young women unexpectedly appeared, one in Berlin and the other in England, claiming to be his illegitimate daughters. In fact, the alleged daughter from Berlin also had a smart little boy who looked so much like Einstein that his friend, Dr. Janos Plesch, sent him a letter to inform him, as well as a photo of the child. Einstein, however, showed no interest in the girl’s story, perhaps because he knew it was a lie.
On the other hand, his attention was caught by the woman in England, who, using his name, was trying to open herself doors for herself in academic circles. It is unlikely that the rumours reached Elsa, who was critically ill due to heart and liver issues, and who Einstein did not want to burden further for no reason. He instead entrusted the investigation to his secretary, who in turn asked a detective friend of hers to gather information on the mysterious woman. In the end, her date of birth confirmed that she could not possibly have been Einstein’s daughter. However, it could be possible that he wanted to investigate this particular claim because he suspected that the woman may be the daughter that he and Mileva had had prior to their marriage, whom he had never met.
Elsa’s illness progressed until she was bedridden at their holiday home in the Adirondack Mountains, away from any annoying visitors. Since Margot and his secretary took care of her, Einstein spent his time travelling to visit friends and writing letters to express his condolences to the families of those who had passed away. As a result, he did not spend much time with his sick wife, who complained about his indifference. Elsa felt neglected, and once told a supportive friend that Einstein needed lessons on how to be a tender and supportive husband.
Was there any truth in peoples’ accusations that he was too cold towards Elsa? According to the couple’s friend Thomas Bucky: “Einstein had a shell around him that was not easy to penetrate”. Although he cared for others and often went to great lengths to please them, he found too much intimacy difficult to handle. This could also be the reason why, although he loved his wife, he found it difficult to express his feelings and take care of her. However, once he realised that her condition was irreversible, he would stay awake by her bedside all night keeping her company. Eventually, in December 1936, Elsa lost her battle with her long illness and Einstein lost a devoted wife, who had cared for him and protected him like no other. Trying to overcome his depression, he dived into his working, finding that it was the only thing that could keep his mind busy.
Although he loved women and had various casual relationships, he never got married again. Female beauty fascinated him, and he enjoyed women’s company, but as he one day remarked to one of his friends: “The whole thing lasts just ten minutes and then it’s all over”. Women often sent him letters too. Some sought his advice on personal matters, others expressed their admiration, and others their erotic desire. He usually wrote back to them, especially when they wanted his help, and sometimes did them the honour of sending them a signed photograph.
During this same period, the University of Pennsylvania named him one of the best teachers in the world, while in a poll published in a British newspaper, the public voted him as the most important man in the world. Despite his international recognition, he stopped making anti-Nazi statements in public, believing that otherwise he would only manage to infuriate them more against the Jewish communities of Europe. Instead, he offered his help to many Jews who were trying to flee Germany and seek refuge in the United States by signing affidavits for them and putting large sums of money in their bank accounts to ensure that they would be able to make ends meet and not burden the state.
A few months after Elsa’s death, Hans Albert visited Einstein at Princeton and stayed with him for three months. Hans Albert rekindled his relationship with his father, whose attitude was now warmer, and their conflicts seemed to become a thing of the past. During his travels, Hans Albert found work as a researcher in South Carolina, where he settled with his wife and two children.
11. Albert Einstein during WWII
“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
In 1939, as World War II begun, Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, two prominent physicists, arrived in Long Island in a panic. They were searching for Einstein, who had spent his summer vacation there, to inform him that German scientists had succeeded in splitting the atom, thereby giving the Nazis the lead in the discovery of a weapon of mass destruction. The three wrote a letter to President Roosevelt informing him of the seriousness of the situation; thanks to them, investigations into the dichotomy of the uranium atoms and the atomic bomb began at Columbia University.
The FBI suspects Einstein of being a spy
In 1942, amidst the war, the US authorities suspected many innocents of being spies. One of them was Albert Einstein. The FBI had a large file in his name full of information from anonymous sources accusing him of being a Communist and a spy acting against the USA. Most of the evidence, of course, was based on gossip and testimonies from unverified sources, as the FBI feared Einstein and simply watched him, without ever bringing him in for interrogation. According to one of these claims, Einstein was experimenting to discover a deadly ray capable of dismantling dozens of aircraft and tanks within seconds.
He was, however, called to testify about other people he knew and who the FBI had arrested on espionage charges, such as Theodore von Laue, the son of a friend who had moved from Germany to Princeton shortly before the war to study. Einstein’s testimony in favor of the young man’s morals and integrity contributed to his release.
Einstein in the US Navy
In June 1943, Einstein began serving as a consultant to the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, enthusiastically telling his friends: “I am in the Navy, but I was not required to get a Navy haircut”. His peaceful beliefs had disappeared by the time he learned of the inhumane treatment of Jews in Europe and American soldiers taken prisoner in Japan. It was then that he decided to dedicate his intelligence and knowledge to the creation of weapons to defeat the Axis powers. Together with leading members of the Navy, they discussed military tactics that could be applied, such as placing mines at Japanese naval bases at the same time as air strikes on their air bases, and proposed new weapons for construction and improvements to existing ones.
Einstein’s theory that gave birth to the atom bomb
In March 1945, Einstein turned sixty-six years old. Although he was now over the usual retirement ago of sixty-five, he had no desire to do this and was still working at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study. He did not like growing old, and he spent his birthday in a bad mood. The photographer who visited him to take a photo requested by the University found him disheveled and unkempt in baggy trousers and a worn sweater, as if it was not a day that he wanted to remember. In any case, he hated being photographed because he thought his face looked ugly and feminine.
In the meantime, the Allies had almost won the war, as Germany surrendered unconditionally and only Japan refused to retreat. In July of the same year, successive experiments brought to light the first atomic bomb, tested in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. Based on Einstein’s equations of mass and energy, this is still considered to be the most destructive weapon of all time. Then, under the orders of new US President Harry Truman, two more of these bombs swept Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, so that the war would end without further battles.
The news soon reached the American radios. Helen Dukas learned about the terrible event and informed Einstein, who was still in the dark. “In developing atomic or nuclear energy, science did not draw upon supernatural strength, but merely imitated the action of the sun’s rays. Atomic power is no more unnatural than when I sail a boat on Saranac Lake,” he told reporters in an effort to prevent the demonisation of this new discovery. He acknowledged, however, that humanity was not yet ready to manage this new form of energy. Einstein was called “the father of the release of atomic energy”, a description that he rejected because, as he claimed, he had only set the theoretical framework for the atomic energy; there were other scientists, such as Otto Hahn and Niels Bohr, who discovered the application of his theory.
12. Einstein after WWII
“Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”
Einstein’s opinion on the creation of a Jewish state
In January 1946, Einstein, as a respected figure of Jewish descent, was invited to speak at a meeting of an Anglo-American Commission on the possibility of establishing a Jewish state. By the time he entered the room, another speaker had taken the stage, but the audience immediately recognised him and burst into applause. However, his smile and serenity fooled them, as the sharp speech that followed caught them by surprise.
Einstein openly denounced Britain’s policy in its colonies, arguing that the only way to end the Arab-Jewish conflict was to remove British power from Palestine. If the two reconciled, there would be no reason for Great Britain to rule the region. Up to that point, most of the supporters of the creation of a Jewish state may have agreed with him, until he proposed the establishment of an international government involving both Jews and Arabs and a state where the two nationalities could live together peacefully. The fact that a famous person of Jewish heritage publicly acknowledged that the creation of a Jewish state would be unjust to the Arabs of the region may have infuriated the Jews in the audience, but it also seemed to demonstrate an impartial altruism uninfluenced by patriotism.
While Einstein may have shown understanding to the Arabs, his attitude towards the Germans was different. When the academics made an appeal to the Allies to treat the defeated Nazis with leniency, he stood against it. He also refused to become a member of the Prussian Academy again. After all, how could he simply forgive the people who had murdered his beloved relatives and friends in Italy and Auschwitz?
Einstein’s concerns about nuclear energy
As the issue of nuclear energy started to loom large and the post-war rivalry between the United States and Russia flared up, Einstein worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. Feeling responsible for the discovery of the atomic bomb, he sought to find a way to bring nuclear energy under control and use it for the benefit of the people, not as a lethal weapon. For this reason, he surprised the crowds by speaking on the radio about the dangers of the misuse of nuclear energy and the need for the United States to reconcile with Russia, so that both nations would abandon the idea of producing nuclear weapons. He also took part in the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, a team of scientists working on atomic energy to educate the world about its dangers and potential. At the same time, he collaborated with the anthropologist Ashley Montagu to make a film for this purpose, entitled ‘One World or None’.
While Einstein was tormented by the thought of a nuclear disaster, the FBI continued to suspect him of being a malicious Communist and monitored his every move. The US ambassador to Moscow, Walter Bedell Smith, was also involved in the case, bringing to light a rumour that scientist Peter Kapitsa had asked Einstein to relocate to Russia to conduct higher-level research together. Once again, they did not have any serious evidence against him, so started watching Helen Dukas in case she would lead them to more information.
Einstein’s love for children
Einstein had been separated from his two sons for years. After settling in America, he never saw Eduard again and rarely ever saw Hans Albert, who now lived in South Carolina. He also never searched for his first daughter, Lieserl, neither to meet her nor to find out what had happened to her.
While he was not at all close to his own children, he was very affectionate with the children of others. When friends visited him with their children, he seemed to become a child too and played in a carefree way with them. He enjoyed discussing the structure and mysteries of the world and even explaining his complex theories in simple words. Especially after Elsa’s death, his door was always open to children from the neighbourhood. They would ask him to help them with their Physics and Maths exercises for school, and he allowed them to ask him all sorts of unusual questions when they met him in the streets, appreciating the sincerity and simplicity of communicating with them. One day, a five-year-old boy asked him if he had gone to the bathroom that day, causing Einstein to laugh heartily and say, “I’m glad to have someone to ask me a question I can answer”.. Another time, a child, upon seeing Einstein’s tufted and wavy hair, told his mother he looked like a lion; Einstein then hugged him, saying it was the most honest thing he had ever heard.
Einstein’s tender attitude towards children and the ease with which he spoke to and played with them seemed to bring his childish side to the surface This side of his character helped him to express himself with spontaneity and straightforwardness, made him see the funny side of things and laugh wholeheartedly, and, above all, motivated him to never lose his curiosity about the world and his need for knowledge and exploration. He believed that his achievements were not so much due to his intelligence as to his excessive inquisitiveness, which resembled that of a small child.
Einstein admitted to hospital
In December 1948, when Einstein was sixty-nine years old, he was admitted to Brooklyn Jewish Hospital with excruciating stomach pains. The doctors diagnosed him with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and proceeded with surgery. Waking up from the sedation, he was not in the mood to talk to reporters, as he did not want his health to be the subject of gossip. While still in recovery, he happened to hear the doctors discuss that there were no other available rooms in the clinic, and so he said that he felt better so that he could leave and make room for another patient. He was eventually discharged a few days later, accompanied by his secretary as he passed through a crowd of journalists and nursing staff who had gathered to say goodbye. One of his most famous photos was taken that day, in which he sticks his tongue out at an annoying photographer.
13. Einstein’s final years
“He who finds a thought that lets us penetrate even a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great grace. He who, in addition, experiences the recognition, sympathy and help of the best minds of his time, has been given almost more happiness than a man can bear.”
Einstein’s 70th birthday
In March 1949, Princeton celebrated Einstein’s 70th birthday with events in his honour. On the 14th of the month, a biography of him addressed to high school students was published and the ‘Einstein Award’, intended to be given every three years to scientists who made important discoveries in Physics or Mathematics, was officially announced.. Princeton also published a book that summarised all his achievements in the field of science, along with the disagreements he had had with Niels Bohr on the quantum theory. Reading this book, Einstein noticed that he was being criticised for his opposition to Bohr’s theory rather than being praised for his achievements. He hastened to clarify his position, stating that he had never rejected quantum theory altogether, but believed it had serious shortcomings.
His mood during those days, as well as during the last years of his life in general, was rather melancholic. He felt that most people admired him without really understanding his work, apparently unable to see that – with the exception of Bohr, with whom he had some disagreements – he was admired worldwide by many other great physicists. He was saddened by the thought that, after so many years of study, he had not been able to verify his unified field theory, and was bitter towards the new generation of physicists, who did not embrace his theory and did not help him in his endeavour. The decline of his health also distressed him, for his mind remained sharp despite his body weakening. After the operation, he was forced to follow a strict vegetarian diet and quit smoking again.
Despite his suffering, he still felt blessed by the love and recognition he received from the world and happy that, through his discoveries, he had managed to unravel some of the universe’s mysteries. During these difficult years, Dukas stayed by his side; after Elsa’s death, she had taken him even further under her protection. Margot also never stopped caring for him, and Maja, his sister, emigrated from Italy and moved in with him.
Einstein’s involvement in the Rosenberg case
In 1953, Einstein appealed to President Truman to show mercy to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple who had been sentenced to death by electric chair on charges of being Russian spies. His move provoked a wave of negative reactions. In the days that followed, letters came one after the other criticising him for trying to become the centre of attention, for having no idea about politics, and, above all, for supporting people who were trying to harm the country he lived in, especially when he did not display the same interest in the fate of Jewish doctors in Russia who stood accused of murdering members of Stalin’s government through medical malpractice. He responded publicly that any appeal he made to the Soviet Union would have absolutely no effect on the decisions of its leaders and that would in fact only succeed in intensifying their hostility towards America. The case closed when Stalin eventually died, and the doctors were acquitted. The Rosenbergs, however, did not share the same fate and did not escape the death penalty.
However, his involvement in their case once again raised the FBI’s suspicions that he was a Russian spy and they began to watch him closely again, but to no avail. Trying to gather evidence, they interrogated Dukas twice without her knowledge, pretending to be looking for information about others. They asked her a few questions about her relationship with Einstein, as well as the names of those with whom they allegedly collaborated as part of their espionage operations. The attempts were fruitless; having not learned anything more than they already knew, they stopped wasting their time with Einstein’s file.
14. Einstein’s death
“I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”
In April 1955, Einstein, while working in his office, experienced a severe stomach pain; feeling better the next morning, he decided not to call a doctor. In the afternoon, however, his secretary heard him faint in the bathroom. She panicked and called his doctor, who gave him morphine to relieve his pain. The following morning, he was taken to Princeton Hospital, where he was found to have ruptured an abdominal aortic aneurysm, resulting in him bleeding internally. He refused to undergo surgery because he did not want to prolong his life with artificial means, though his friends who rushed to see him tried to persuade him in vain. At dawn on 18th April, while he was sleeping, the nurse who cared for him noticed that he was having difficulty breathing. Within a few minutes, he had passed away. According to Margot, who visited him in the hospital shortly before his end, he maintained his calmness and humour until the last moment. “As fearless as he had been all his life, so he faced death humbly and quietly. He left the world without sentimentality or regrets,” she said.
After his death, he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Delaware River according to his wishes; in his modesty, he did not want his remains to be treated as a holy relic.
However, his brain was held by Dr. Harvey, who had carried out the autopsy, to find out if there was anything special that made him so intelligent. Anatomy professors who examined the brain found increased glial cells in the area related to maths proficiency, and they were further impressed by how much it had remained unchanged over time, as if Einstein had not aged at all. Dukas dedicated her life to collecting his manuscripts, which were scattered around the world, and to protecting his privacy from writers and journalists seeking information for publicity.
Thanks to technological evolution, Einstein’s theories about the structure of the universe have been intensively investigated up to the present day through new experiments. The discovery of a principle that unites the forces of gravity and electromagnetism remains one of the most burning issues in the field of Physics. Experts claim that this scientist saw at least thirty years ahead of his time, which is why his contemporaries either held him in the highest esteem or despised him. The truth is that, thanks not only to his phenomenal intelligence but also to his revolutionary way of thinking, he foretold many future discoveries. Even Niels Bohr, despite their disagreements, stated that “mankind will always be indebted to Einstein for the removal of the obstacles to our outlook which were involved in the primitive notions of absolute space and time. He gave us a world picture with a unity and harmony surpassing the boldest dreams of the past.”.
To this day, Einstein is recognised worldwide as a symbol of science and genius, and his face is often used in merchandise, such as on posters and t-shirts, depicting him in a lighthearted sense. If he knew how famous he would become even after his death, he would not have liked it, but perhaps he would have been pleased by the fact that his memory and work lives on.
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Below you can find the whole collection of Albert Einstein’s ’s Mottos and Quotes in text form.
Albert Einstein’s Mottos and Quotes.
- Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
- Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
- Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.
- The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.
- Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
- The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
- Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.
- The only source of knowledge is experience.
- Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.
- Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
- Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.
- I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.
- It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
- Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.
- Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
- Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.
- A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
- Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.
- Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.
- Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
- It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
- Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.
- Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.
- Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.
- The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
- Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
- The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
- Imagination is more important than knowledge.
- I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.
- Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
- The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
- If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
- True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.
- A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?
- Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.
- Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.
- The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.
- The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
- To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
- There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
- If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?
- Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.
- All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.
- Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.
- A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
- Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.
- Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
- Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.
- Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
- The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.
- Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.
- Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.
- Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
- No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
- No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
- When the solution is simple, God is answering.
- Information is not knowledge.
- If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.
- Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
- Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.
- Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.
- The high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule.
- The environment is everything that isn’t me
- Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
- It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
- If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
- Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
- The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.
- When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.
- Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
- I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
- As far as I’m concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.
- Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.
- Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.
- People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
- Love is a better teacher than duty.
- It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.
- The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
- Never lose a holy curiosity.
- I used to go away for weeks in a state of confusion.
- In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.
- Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.
- The only real valuable thing is intuition.
- Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.
- We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.
- As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
- True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.
- Confusion of goals and perfection of means seems, in my opinion, to characterize our age.
- Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.
- We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
- A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
- Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.
- We cannot despair of humanity since we ourselves are human beings.
- Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.
- It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.
- In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.
- The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.
- God does not play dice.
- There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.
- An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.
- All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.
- He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
- Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.
- Force always attracts men of low morality.
- The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder.
- Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized.
- The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat.
- God always takes the simplest way.
- It was the experience of mystery – even if mixed with fear – that engendered religion.
- Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
- The faster you go, the shorter you are.
- The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
- The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.
- The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest number of hypotheses or axioms.
- Sometimes one pays most for the things one gets for nothing.
- It is only to the individual that a soul is given.
- The attempt to combine wisdom and power has only rarely been successful and then only for a short while.
- Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
- Morality is of the highest importance – but for us, not for God.
- You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.
- You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.
- Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.
- Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.
- The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.
- Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
- It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.
- The road to perdition has ever been accompanied by lip service to an ideal.
- Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.
- The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.
- That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
- There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there.
- Politics is for the present, but an equation is for eternity.
- One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.
- To the Master’s honor all must turn, each in its track, without a sound, forever tracing Newton’s ground.
- The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there’s no risk of accident for someone who’s dead.
- God may be subtle, but he isn’t plain mean.
- The man of science is a poor philosopher.
- Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced.
- It stands to the everlasting credit of science that by acting on the human mind it has overcome man’s insecurity before himself and before nature.
- Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature.
- Human beings must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
- The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
- There could be no fairer destiny for any physical theory than that it should point the way to a more comprehensive theory in which it lives on as a limiting case.
- All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man’s actions.
- I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.
- I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind.
- I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation and is but a reflection of human frailty.
- Mozart’s music is so pure and beautiful that I see it as a reflection of the inner beauty of the universe.
- I very rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards.
- We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.
- It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.
- I do not believe that civilization will be wiped out in a war fought with the atomic bomb. Perhaps two-thirds of the people of the earth will be killed.
- Isn’t it strange that I who have written only unpopular books should be such a popular fellow?
- My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.
- If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.
- I have just got a new theory of eternity.
- I am a deeply religious nonbeliever – this is a somewhat new kind of religion.
- I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
- I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.
- I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil.
- Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism – how passionately I hate them!
- I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.
- I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.
- I want to know all Gods thoughts; all the rest are just details.
- I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination.
- You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.
- I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.
- What we learn up to age twenty is taken for primordial truth accepted once and for all and inviolate, what we meet after that is pure speculation without form and weight.
- Is not philosophy as if written in honey? It looks wonderful when one contemplates it, but when one looks again it is all gone. Only mush remains.
- I don’t carry information in my mind that’s readily available in books.
- A person doesn’t need to go to college to learn facts. He can get them from books. The value of a liberal arts college education is that it trains the mind to think. And that’s something you can’t learn from textbooks. If a person had ability, a college education helps develop it.
- The real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.
- I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime, but I prefer not to take tea with him.
- Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.
- To deprive every ethnic group of its special traditions is to convert the world into a huge Ford plant. I believe in standardizing automobiles, but not human beings.
- We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.
- I do not believe individuals possess any unique gifts. I only believe there exists on the one hand talent, and on the other hand trained abilities.
- If one gets hold of something that will not let go its hold on him- if one has the devotion for a great work- what more is necessary? Patience! Then a little more patience.
- I hate crowds and making speeches. I hate facing cameras and having to answer a crossfire of questions. Why popular fancy should seize on me, a scientist, dealing in abstract things and happy if left alone, is a manifestation of mass psychology that is beyond me.
- World peace is possible with the proper organization and the right ideals.
- Violence breeds violence. Liberty is the necessary foundation for the development of all true values.
- The individual counts for little. Mam’s individual troubles are insignificant. We place too much importance on the trivialities of living.
- The more delicate the scientific instrument, the more difficult to handle. Woman is more delicate than man and more sensitive. So she must be handled with care. An excitable woman is like an electric instrument which is suddenly short-circuited.
- I discovered that nature was constructed in a wonderful way and our task is to find out that mathematical structure of nature itself. Even nature is simple if we happen to look at it in the appropriate manner… but it is not a belief of other investigators. It is a kind of faith that helped me through my whole life not to become hopeless in the great difficulties of investigation.
- Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not. Nature hides her secrets because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse.
- In dictatorships people are led by coercion and lies. In democracies by lies only.
- Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty. It stems rather from love and devotion towrads men and towrads objective things.
- Whatever a man or woman has done he or she deserves to be helped to an honest life.
- I know a little about nature but hardly anything about men.
- He who finds a thought that lets us penetrate even a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great grace. He who, in addition, experiences the recognition, sympathy and help of the best minds of his time, has been given almost more happiness than a man can bear.