Albert Einstein was already a famous physicist when he moved from Nazi-dominated Europe to the United States: a badly dressed, wild-haired German speaking Jewish scientist who became all things to all men.
Drum-beaters of all persuasions found in Einstein someone whose versatile image they could mould to their will. Endless myths grew up around him.
Everyone and his aunt now ‘knows’ that Einstein was dyslexic and a terrible student.
He was so lazy and useless at high school that the only job he could find was as a lowly clerk in a patent office. In fact, his first wife Mileva Maric was the truly brilliant physicist and she did all his work for him; she actually wrote all his famous papers and was the person who came up with the Theory of Relativity in the first place.
Despite this, or maybe because of this, he was a horrible misogynist who despised women and forced her to get rid of their illegitimate first child, Lieserl. He neglected her and his children; when he left Mileva, he caused his younger son’s madness. As well as this, he was incredibly vague, a caricature of an absent-minded professor. As if that wasn’t enough, he was simultaneously a staunch atheist; a true believer in the Judeo- Christian God (“God does not play dice”); and a ‘Jewish saint’.
In The Unexpected Einstein, Denis Brian examines and, where necessary, corrects many myths that have grown up around the real Albert Einstein. Brian is an experienced biographer who has already written a more conventional biography of Einstein. He uses what appear to be good historical sources: actual records of Einstein’s school results; Einstein’s letters and those of his wives and other women, relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances; interviews with eyewitnesses; FBI files; and more.
Using these sources, Brian proves some of the myths were clearly untrue. For example, Einstein seldom did very well at school, but he was almost always acknowledged as brilliant in maths and physics. His problem was with authoritarianism, not with learning – and Brian shows that authoritarians certainly had major problems with him during his childhood and adolescence. In fact, it seems that Einstein was forced into the patent office because of his attitude, not because of his results.
Again, according to the evidence, Einstein was clearly a terrible husband and neglectful father, but it would be dangerous to say that this caused his son Eduard’s insanity. The case of his illegitimate daughter Lieserl is more difficult; virtually all of the hard evidence seems to have been destroyed beyond retrieval.
The Unexpected Einstein works through various aspects of Einstein’s life, providing a useful and interesting corrective to the myths. Along the way, Brian proves that Einstein was brilliant, vague, and utterly charming.