What do we really know about Albert Einstein? Hair that would stump Vidal Sassoon, a lab coat that’s seen better days, a very complicated set of theories that, oh, revolutionised the way we think about time and space and just about everything – sure. But there’s more to a genius than grooming and publications. Let’s take a quick look behind the scenes…
He loved to rock
Physics may have rocked Albert’s world, but music was his other passion. His mother was a pianist, and little Einstein took up the violin at age six. He took to Mozart, Brahms and Beethoven and he liked to improvise. His second wife, Elsa, claimed she fell in love with him because of his beautiful playing (though some commentators dispute his talent) and that music helped him when he was working on his theories. Einstein himself said, late in life, ‘I know that the most joy in my life has come to me from my violin.’
He was batty about books
Think book groups are the domain of bored housewives? Think again! Before his contributions to science were recognised and he was given a university post, Einstein worked as a clerk at the Patent Office in Bern, At the same time, he was part of a reading group with two friends – they met in Einstein’s flat and talked books and philosophy. They called themselves the Akademie Olympia, and discussed writers and thinkers like Hume, Spinoza and Cervantes. Einstein later said the sessions had a lasting effect on his scientific career. So next time you feel tempted to pass on that glass of wine and The Time Traveller’s Wife – wait! It could be important!
He was passionate about civil rights
Theoretical physicists aren’t all handcuffed to their blackboards and calculators; in fact, Einstein, having moved to the USA when the Nazis were rising to power in Europe, became an active member in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Princeton. As a civil rights protester, he said in 1946 that racism was America’s ‘worst disease’, and he wrote to WEB Du Bois and Paul Robeson, and was involved with anti-hate campaigns run by the Civil Rights Congress. Right on, Albert!
He hated publicity
We all know what Einstein looked like, right? Those eyes, that tongue… Well, that was the case back in his time, too – he was frequently accosted in the street by passers-by who fancied a quick tutorial. Tired of providing scientific sound-bites, he told the New Yorker that he used to respond in apologetic broken English, ‘Pardon me, sorry! Always I am mistaken for Professor Einstein!’ – and make a speedy getaway. Clark Kent, eat your heart out.
He was offered the presidency of Israel
Okay, this isn’t a habit, but it is revealing: after World War II ended, Einstein got involved with the United Nations (alongside Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Gandhi), and in 1952, the Prime Minister of the recently-formed State of Israel offered him its Presidency. He declined, saying that as a scientist trained to deal with objective facts, he lacked the aptitude and experience to deal with people and official functions, but that he was ‘at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it’. He went on to help set up the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Moral? Make like a genius and know your own strengths!
Images credit: Retronaut