Our members were passionate about The Other Einstein. They loved it. They distrusted it. It was an easy, quick read. It wasn’t long enough. We all wanted to know more. One of us hadn’t been able to attend, but she volunteered in an email to be the first responder:
“I knew that Albert Einstein was a jerk, but this book portrays him as both a jerk in his personal life and dishonest as a scientist, taking credit for Mileva’s idea. I did a little Internet research, and the theory that Mileva originated the theory of relativity is known, but is probably a minority opinion. I don’t suppose we will ever know the truth, but the message remains the same: There are many obstacles that can prevent someone from being able to live up to his/her potential. Mileva suffered from several of them: she was female, and disabled, and Serbian. Historically, the human race has denied certain people the chance to contribute fully. Imagine where we would be if we had always allowed everyone to participate.” (CB)
With lots of nods about the table, we seemed to agree. The statement is concise. How could we top that? But then, what if the book is more fiction than real? What if Albert Einstein wasn’t a jerk? Our male second responder got a loud WHAT!!! No way!! Obviously Einstein was a jerk! And we were off.
Another of us said she had also to keep reminding herself that this was fiction. She felt that the writing and the letters laid out the signs of an abuser to perfection, but the extent of Mileva’s contributions to science is not clear. Still another wanted to have the story color-coded to indicate fiction versus non-fiction.
Perhaps Einstein was just lazy–a family trait indicated by his father’s struggles in business. We compared his traits to those of other successful people: “1.) Stay Busy 2.) Just Say No 3.) Know What You Are 4.) Build Networks 5.) Create Good Luck 6.) Have Grit 7.) Make Awesome Mistakes 8.) Find Mentors.”[i] We used words like ego, failure, thoughtless. We laughed when one of us asked if Elon Musk has failures! Another member compared our success list, and Albert and Mileva, to the Wright Brothers, the book we read last September.
Albert was charming and gave “lip-service” to Mileva as he wooed her, but he did not marry her despite her pregnancy. I wondered about his youth, but I was reminded by members that, at the turn of the century, men and women took on more at a younger age. Did Albert suffer because of anti-Semitism? This was not handled much in the book, but Mileva certainly suffered as a Serbian and a woman. Mileva was reserved and humble. Perhaps she didn’t want to have her name on the papers. One member, who gave up a career to raise her children, considered her contribution implicit as part of the family. In hindsight, for Mileva, it definitely wasn’t.
We referred to research we had done, and I am including some links to articles at the end of this journal. We could have kept discussing the book and the Einsteins. We did not refer to any of the publisher’s discussion questions. None of us doubted Mileva was brilliant. All of us were moved by her struggles and ultimate obscurity. There is no doubt that the story engaged us, but we struggled with believing what we read, particularly on how it reflected on someone as influential and iconic as Albert Einstein.
Other Works Discussed:
- The 100 Most Influential Scientists of All Time (Rogers, K. (2010). The 100 most influential scientists of all time. New York, NY: Britannica Educational Pub. in association with Rosen Educational Services.) “In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world not to the man to whom the idea first occurs. –Francis Darwin (1848-1925)” Introduction, page 9.
- Einstein : his life and universe (2009) by Walter Isaacson.
- Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl (1999) by Michele Ackheim
- Genius. Season one, Einstein (2017 DVD) Director Ron Howard Stars: Geoffrey Rush/Johnny Flynn and Samantha Colley.
- Einstein’s wife: the life of Mileva Einstein-Marić (2003 DVD) Oregon Public Broadcasting.
- Hamilton, the musical (2015) Lin-Manuel Miranda
- “The little Singing Frog— A Serbian Folktale.” Can you Guess my Name: Traditional Tales Around the World (2002) Selected and retold by Judy Sierra
- The Wright brothers (2015) by David McCullough.
- https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/ Digital Einstein Papers
- https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2013/12/successful-people/ “8 traits the world’s most successful people share”
- https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/09/07/jocelyn-bell-burnells-1967-nobel-pulsars-breakthrough-prize-science/1220936002/ “Woman behind 1967 Nobel work finally recognized as top scientist with Breakthrough Prize, awarded $3 million” by Ashley May (9-7-2018)
- https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-forgotten-life-of-einsteins-first-wife/ “The Forgotten Life of Einstein’s First Wife” by Pauline Gagnon (12-19-2016)
- https://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/06/arts/dark-side-of-einstein-emerges-in-his-letters.html “Dark Side of Einstein emerges in His Letters” by Dinitia Smith (1996)
- https://www.nature.com/scitable/content/does-gender-matter-by-ben-a-barres-10602856 “Does Gender Matter?” by Ben A. Barres © 2006 Nature Publishing Group Barres, B. A., Does gender matter? Nature 442, 133-136 (2006) doi:10.1038/442133a.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGIbbMo4wfs excerpts from Dear Albert, a Play by Alan Alda, Based on Einstein’s Love Letters
[i] What Do Successful People Have In Common? 8 Things. (2016, June 01). Retrieved September 09, 2018, from https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2013/12/successful-people/