Newly Released Collection of Letters Challenges Conception of Einstein

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Newly released documents will challenge the conflicting conceptions of Albert Einstein as either a “saintly white-haired genius” or the “devil who created the atomic bomb,” academic authorities on the intellectual giant said.

“Einstein’s private correspondence refutes the simplistic view of him as an isolated, remote man who immersed himself in his work at the expense of human contact,” a professor of history at the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, Diana Buckwald, said.

Within the collection are details of the scientist’s love affairs, his erratic relationship with his sons, his affiliation with Zionism, his financial situation, and his reflections on his theory of special relativity.

The collection shows that the “largest portion of his Nobel Prize money went to his first wife, Mileva, in their divorce,” Ms. Buckwald said. The money was then “lost in the Great Depression” after Mileva “invested it into property,” she said.

Ms. Buckwald also said some letters in the collection displayed the “vagaries of his long-distance relationship with his sons.”

“They show the estrangement and upset in their relationship, but also suggest a warmth and closeness between them,” she said.

However, other Einstein historians said they doubt the collection contains any substantial new scholarly information. “We know everything there is to know about his personal life,” a former senior editor at Princeton University Press, Alice Calaprice, said. “His life well-documented through his other correspondences and writings.”

Nevertheless, the collection should be useful in dispelling outdated images and aiding new biographical work on Einstein, a professor of physics at Boston University, John Satchel, said. “The stereotypical image of Einstein is a myth, and I hope that the release of this collection means that nobody keeps up this old image,” he said. “There is also no adequate biography of Einstein, and perhaps this will help.”

A new biography of Einstein written by a former managing editor of CNN and Time magazine, Walter Isaacson, is due for release in April 2007.

Later this month, Princeton University Press will publish parts of the collection in the 10th volume of its series of Einstein’s correspondence,”The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein: The Berlin Years: Correspondence, May–December 1920, and Supplementary Correspondence, 1909–1920.”

The New York Sun

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