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Einstein on the Road

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Just when one thinks that one has read every possible book about Einstein there comes along the new and delightful Einstein on the Road by the physicist Josef Eisinger. Once Einstein became famous he was invited to make several visits to places like Japan and Uruguay. He kept a diary that makes it clear that these trips were no picnic. Apart from the lectures, he was expected to appear at all sorts of social functions and wear the dreaded tuxedo. He was also ‘graded’ by the local German consuls who gave him high marks for exporting German culture. This was at the time when he was being vilified in Germany. The book is full of surprises and is a pleasure to read."
—Jeremy Bernstein, Author of Quantum Leaps

"‘The road is life,’ said Jack Kerouac, and here, as Einstein hits the road, life as he had not seen it before unfolds in front of him. As the newly famous physicist embarks on travels that take him from Europe to Palestine, Princeton, and Pasadena; from Ceylon to Singapore; and to Argentina, Japan, China, and other exotic places, we see Einstein amused, awed, and sometimes appalled as he absorbs what he sees around him and faithfully reveals his thoughts to his closest travel companion, his travel diary. In this book, Josef Eisinger brings us a delightful addition to the ever-expanding genre of Einstein studies."
—Alice Calaprice, Author of The Ultimate Quotable Einstein and Dear Professor Einstein: Letters to and from Children

"Einstein was a keen, sometimes caustic, observer of the world around him, and his travel diaries are a fascinating portal into a neglected part of his life. In vivid language and without being intrusive, Professor Eisinger has captured the elusive charm of Einstein’s prose."
—Robert Schulmann, Longtime director of the Einstein Papers Project at Boston University

"Josef Eisinger has uncovered an intriguing fragment of history here—the triumphal, wandering years of 1921–1933 during which Einstein and his wife were feted on four continents and in more than a dozen countries. He uses to the hilt witty and insightful commentaries from Einstein’s voluminous diaries. His wanderlust was compounded of the need to escape from the dangers and disturbances of that period in Germany, his love of long sea voyages seen as relaxing work opportunities, his insatiable curiosity about the world, and his desire to further humanitarian causes. But, finally, Einstein found in Princeton, when matters in Germany came to a head, the quiet backwater that he needed, and he stayed there for good after 1933. This may be the most delightful way ever to learn all that one really needs to know about Einstein."
—Philip Anderson, Recipient of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616144609
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 9/20/2011
  • Pages: 270
  • Sales rank: 477,692
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

EINSTEIN ON THE ROAD


By Josef Eisinger

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2011 Josef Eisinger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-460-9


Chapter One

Setting the Stage

In 1912, while Einstein occupied the chair for theoretical physics at Prague's German University, he visited Berlin for the first time. At that stage, he had already won wide recognition among physicists for his work in quantum physics and for his special theory of relativity, but he was by no means the celebrity he was to become in the 1920s. His weeklong stay in Berlin gave him an opportunity to meet with Max Planck, whom he greatly admired for having introduced quanta into physics, and with other renowned scientists then working in Berlin, Europe's preeminent center of physics research. But Einstein also used his visit for an affectionate reunion with his cousin Elsa Löwenthal, whom he had known since childhood. She had recently divorced and was now living in Berlin with her two teenage daughters.

Two years later, Einstein was offered a munificent academic position in Berlin, truly an offer he could not—and did not—refuse. He consequently took up residence in the Prussian capital in 1914, arriving with his wife, Mileva, and their two young sons. But the marriage ended in acrimony soon after, and a few months later, the First World War broke out. Einstein's divorce did not become final until 1919, and when it did, he married Elsa. The couple established their household in Berlin, and the city remained their home until the Nazis came to power in January 1933. It was therefore as a Berliner that Einstein experienced the bleak years of World War I, their violent aftermath, and the bracing and turbulent years of the Weimar Republic, until its demise.

The present chapter sets the stage for Einstein's travel decade by reviewing the historical events that preceded it and by providing an outline of Einstein's earlier life and work.

BACKGROUND: WILHELMINE BERLIN AND THE RUSH TO WAR

At the time of Einstein's visit to Berlin in 1912, the German Reich was just forty years of age. It had been assembled from numerous German principalities, most of them herded together under the dynamic leadership of Prussia, the Reich's most powerful member state. The emergence of a united Germany in 1871 represented the fruits of three victorious wars that Prussia waged against Denmark, Austria-Hungary, and France and also of the tireless diplomatic efforts of Prussia's prime minister, Count Otto von Bismarck. The newly created German state was nominally a constitutional monarchy, governed by a council, with limited input from an elected parliament, the Reichstag. In practice, however, most of the power was vested in the person of the kaiser, who was also king of Prussia, for the constitution gave him the authority to dismiss the governing council, as well as the Reichstag. Bismarck remained the Reich's guiding spirit from its inception until 1890, when he fell out with the newly anointed Wilhelm II. The new kaiser was by all accounts a vain and insecure young man who was not prepared to be overshadowed by his principal minister. The break came over a dispute regarding social policy, but its most profound effect was in foreign policy, for Wilhelm dismantled Bismarck's policy of negotiating interlocking alliances with the other great European powers as the means of ensuring Germany's security.

Wilhelm II put a more aggressive policy in place: he declined to renew the treaty with Russia that Bismarck had negotiated, and he was vociferous in his demands for "a place in the sun" for Germany alongside the European empires that were already in possession of the most desirable colonial real estate. Above all, Wilhelm was jealous of the global power exercised by Great Britain, which was ruled by his grandmother, Queen Victoria. He felt that his English relatives did not pay him the respect due to an emperor, and he was particularly envious of his uncle Albert, the Prince of Wales. He alienated "Uncle Bertie" by his boisterous behavior and poor sportsmanship during the Cowes regatta, that extravagant annual gathering that drew the cream of the European nobility to the Isle of Wight. It was in yacht racing that Wilhelm and Albert acted out their rivalry during the 1890s. Wilhelm even established his own grand regatta in Kiel, in an attempt to rival the Cowes regatta, but it was not a success. Queen Victoria tried hard to mend relations between the two ruling houses. She even offered her difficult grandson Wilhelm the title of Honorary Admiral of the Fleet, but to no avail. The breach between the two dynasties was further exacerbated when Wilhelm meddled in the Boer War, sending Paul Kruger, the president of the short-lived Boer Republic, a congratulatory telegram that hinted at Germany's support against Britain.

Perceiving Britain as a greater threat to Germany than Russia and France, Wilhelm ordered the rapid expansion of his Imperial Navy so that it might challenge the supremacy of the Royal Navy, Prince Albert's pride and joy. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was charged with building a powerful new battle fleet—a provocation that Britain, with her many far-flung possessions, could hardly ignore. Britain responded by commissioning even faster, better-armed, and better-armored battleships, such as HMS Dreadnought, and Germany responded in kind. As the arms race between the two navies escalated, contemporary observers perceived it as a contest to decide who would rule the world.

On land, Wilhelm appointed Alfred von Schlieffen as army commander, to succeed Helmuth von Moltke, the celebrated hero of the Franco-Prussian War. Schlieffen's strategic plan for crushing France called for German armies to thrust west through Belgium before turning south, toward Paris, while employing a blocking force in the east to contain Russia. The plan recognized that a quick victory in the west was essential, since Germany could not win a protracted war. The Schlieffen plan was the strategic basis of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, which was arrayed against the Entente powers: Britain, France, and Russia. Historians have offered many reasons for the nations' headlong plunge into war, but it cannot be denied that Wilhelm's personality flaws and his espousal of militaristic nationalism played a significant role. Einstein was, of course, thoroughly familiar with the history of Wilhelmine Germany, and nothing could have been more repugnant to his instinctive pacifism than the kaiser's policies.

A word, finally, about the internal politics of Wilhelmine Germany. The rapid industrialization and urbanization during the second half of the nineteenth century led to enormous shifts in the German population and to growing influence of the working classes and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Bismarck tried to limit the political power of the socialist parties, and at one time actually outlawed them, but in the wake of the 1912 general election, the SPD became the largest party in the Reichstag. Since that was Germany's last general election until after the war, the SPD had a powerful voice in the creation of the Weimar Republic.

BEFORE BERLIN (1879–1914)

Soon after Einstein settled in Berlin, the war that many had seen as inevitable became a stark reality. The exultation with which the German public welcomed war appalled Einstein, particularly because this war euphoria infected many of his academic colleagues. Vienna, London, and Paris greeted the outbreak of war with similar enthusiasm. Einstein's dismay must be seen in light of his lifelong loathing of militarism and of all herdlike behavior of people. Many years later, he wrote that any man who enjoys marching in formation earned his loathing, for that man had surely obtained his large brain in error: "Heroism upon command, senseless brutality and wearisome patriotism, with what fervor I despised them, and how base and despicable war seems to me. I would rather let myself be cut to pieces than participate in such evil doings!" Only when Hitler's rise to power was complete did Einstein modify his pacifist principles.

It was his abhorrence of the Prussian-style militarism that prompted the fifteen-year-old Einstein to leave his native Germany in 1894 and to relinquish his Württembergian and German citizenship two years later. He remained stateless until he won his dearly treasured Swiss citizenship four years thereafter.

How, then, was it possible that twenty years later, Einstein found himself in the employ of the Prussian state and living in its capital? To understand this paradox, it is necessary to recall Einstein's life and work before he took up residence in Berlin.

* * *

Einstein's ancestors on both his parents' sides belonged to the Swabian Jewry that had long resided in the many small towns of Swabia, a region in southern Germany that is now part of the state of Württemberg. His father's family had lived in the little town of Buchau for generations, in times when Jews were severely restricted in choosing their residence and occupation. During the course of the gradual emancipation of German Jews in the wake of the Napoleonic era, many restrictions gradually disappeared, and by the second half of the nineteenth century, enterprising Jews were able to enter new trades and to migrate from their native small towns to larger cities. Several of the Buchau Einsteins migrated to the nearby ancient city of Ulm; Einstein's father, Hermann, was among them. In 1876, Hermann married Pauline Koch, who had a similar Jewish-Swabian background, although hers was of a worldlier, well-to-do family that operated a successful grain business.

On March 14, 1879, Hermann's and Pauline's son, Albert, was born into this closely knit yet geographically dispersed family, a circumstance that, many years later, explains how Einstein could call on relatives in several far-flung places that he visited on his travels. Albert was described as an amiable child who began to talk very late but who, once he did, would silently construct complete sentences before articulating them. As a child, Albert was given to occasional violent temper tantrums; he did not enjoy playing with other children, preferring his own company. It was said that when he was among children, he conveyed an aura of isolation—an aura he would retain all his life.

Shortly after Albert was born, Hermann joined his youngest brother, Jakob, in a business venture that obliged the family to move to Munich, and soon after that the family was augmented by the birth of Albert's sister, Maja. But even though the family had left Ulm, they never lost their soft Swabian dialect or the Swabian fondness for diminutives: to his family, Einstein would always remain their "Albertle." When Einstein was six, he entered the Catholic public school, where he was the only Jew in his class and was exposed to anti-Semitic taunting by his schoolmates. He was a very good, if not an exceptional, student, both in this school and later, in the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. He excelled in mathematics, but he chafed under the school's strict discipline, and he resented having to study a subject merely to pass an examination. At the Luitpold Gymnasium, the teachers laid the greatest stress on Latin and Greek and paid scant attention to mathematics and science, subjects that Einstein studied on his own.

Einstein's mother, Pauline, played the piano, and it was she who introduced young Albert to music. He received his first violin lessons at age six, but he rebelled against his teachers' "mechanical" approach. At age thirteen, when he became acquainted with Mozart's violin sonatas, his passion for music was aroused, and he soon became a largely self-taught but proficient amateur violinist. When Einstein was in his twenties, living in Bern and Zurich, he was in great demand as a chamber-music player. He remained deeply devoted to music for the rest of his life.

Like most members of the largely assimilated German Jewry, Einstein's parents acknowledged their Jewish heritage freely but paid little heed to the observance of religious practices. As a result, Albert received his first religious instruction at the Luitpold Gymnasium and passed through a brief period of religious fervor. While it lasted, he refused to eat pork at home, and he composed hymns to the greater glory of God. But shortly before his scheduled bar mitzvah, this religiosity came to an abrupt halt when he had his first encounter with science and he disavowed formal religion. Many years later, Einstein recalled that the popular science books he read at the time had convinced him that the stories in the Bible could not be true, and this had made a devastating impression on him. He became a fanatical freethinker with a "skeptical attitude towards all beliefs that happen to be prevalent in the current social environment"—an attitude he retained all his life. 6

The science books that affected Einstein so profoundly were presented to him by Max Talmud, a medical student in Munich who was the Einsteins' dinner guest every Thursday evening—possibly in approximate deference to the Jewish tradition of inviting an impoverished Bible scholar to the weekly Sabbath evening meal. Talmud also presented Albert with a Euclidean geometry book that affected the boy deeply: "Here were assertions ... that can be proved with such certainty that any doubt seemed out of the question. This clarity and certainty made an indescribable impression on me."

Jakob Einstein, Hermann's business partner, was a graduate engineer, the only one of five siblings to attend an institution of higher learning. He took charge of the technical aspects of their engineering firm, while Hermann was the business manager. The firm manufactured dynamos, arclamps, and other electrical equipment, and it benefited from the boom in the embryonic electrical industry at the end of the nineteenth century. The enterprise prospered initially, but when the brothers' bid for the construction of Munich's lighting system lost out to much larger electrical engineering concerns, the firm was forced out of business. In 1894, the two brothers entered into another engineering venture, this time in Italy, and the two families moved to Milan. Albert was left behind in Munich, however, to live with a distant relative, so that he could complete his studies at the gymnasium and earn his Abitur (high school graduation) certificate—a sine qua non for any presentable member of the German middle class.

Einstein missed his family dearly, and he chafed under the school's rigid teaching methods, but he stuck it out at the gymnasium for half a year. Determined to escape, he managed to obtain a letter from a physician—Max Talmud's older brother—stating that he was undergoing a nervous breakdown. The letter called on the school to release him for six months so that he could recuperate in the care of his parents. The school obliged, and in December 1894, Einstein appeared unannounced at his parents' doorstep in Milan. He assuaged their serious misgivings by promising that he would study on his own all summer and would then apply for admission to the prestigious Polytechnikum in Zurich (now the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, or ETH).

Einstein enjoyed his Italian summer thoroughly, but he failed to pass the ETH entrance examination in the fall. His examiners did, however, recognize that they were dealing with a child prodigy, and they urged Einstein to attend the cantonal high school in Aarau for one year in order to catch up in his two weakest subjects, French and chemistry, before applying again. Einstein followed this excellent advice, and his school experience in Aarau contrasted sharply with that at the Luitpold Gymnasium. He was fortunate in being able to lodge in the home of Jost Winteler, a teacher at the cantonal school, with whom Einstein developed a close and long-lasting friendship, as he did with all members of the Winteler family. They made Einstein feel like one of them, and Jost Winteler's liberal political views probably played a role in Einstein's decision to renounce his German citizenship. Several years later, Einstein's sister, Maja, married a son of the Wintelers, making Einstein truly a member of the family; and later one of the Winteler daughters married Michele Besso, one of Einstein's closest and oldest friends.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from EINSTEIN ON THE ROAD by Josef Eisinger Copyright © 2011 by Josef Eisinger. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Walter Gratzer....................xiii
Foreword by Peter Lax....................xvii
Preface....................xix
Acknowledgments....................xxiii
Introduction....................xxv
Timeline....................xxix
1. Setting the Stage....................1
2. Journey to the Far East (1922)....................21
3. Homeward Bound: Palestine and Spain (1923)....................51
4. South America (1925)....................73
5. New York and Pasadena (1930–1931)....................95
6. Berlin and Oxford (1931)....................117
7. Return to Pasadena (1931–1932)....................133
8. Oxford, Pasadena, and Last Days in Europe (1932–1933)....................149
Epilogue (1933–1955)....................167
Notes....................175
Select Bibliography....................211
Index....................213
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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is an excellent glimpse at the man whose name denotes brilliance through his observations and conclusions

    Famous for his work on physics and tired of war in Europe, in 1921 Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa visited the United States. In 1922 they traveled to the Far East stopping in Singapore, China and Japan where both are awed by the various cultures they encounter and appalled by the abject poverty they witness. From there the couple went to Palestine and Spain before going to South America in 1925. Finally in the early 1930s the scientist and his spouse came to Pasadena and New York. When Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany, the Einstein pair settled in Princeton and became American citizens. On his global meandering for over a decade, Dr. Einstein kept a travelogue of what fascinated him and what angered him. Einstein On the Road is an intriguing look at the great scientist through his musings on subjects like the locations he visited, the Nazis final solution and other butchering, his conversion from pacifist to Zionist activist, his dealings with royals, heads of state, scientists, and children who he considered his true peers and his love of movies. Readers obtain a memoir that provides a much wider look at the witty brilliant physicist. This is an excellent glimpse at the man whose name denotes brilliance through his observations and conclusions.

    Harriet Klausner

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