Albert Einstein was a recommended. In 1902 it was only thanks to the recommendation of a friend’s father that he was able to find a job as a third-class technical expert at the Bern Patent Office. That job, not very prestigious but which ensured a secure income, for Einstein was a breath of fresh air after years of precariousness and dependence on his father’s finances. Thanks to that salary he managed to marry Mileva Maric, with whom he had already had his daughter Lieserl, of whose existence no one knew anything until 1986 and whom Einstein never saw. Traces of the girl’s fate have been lost: she was perhaps adopted by a friend of Mileva’s and probably died shortly after of scarlet fever. Einstein never spoke of that daughter and all traces were erased.
These and other events of private life emerge from Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein, on newsstands from Saturday 13 March with the Corriere, suitably mixed with the activity of scholar. The complicated sentimental and working life of the young Albert is not in fact secondary in the light of the intuitions that led him to be the icon of science.
Mileva was an excellent mathematician of Serbian origin. She graduated with honors from an all-male high school in Zagreb, where she was accepted after the insistence of her influential and wealthy father. She then enrolled at the Zurich Polytechnic, the only woman in Albert’s degree course. Mileva, over three years older than Einstein, suffering from a congenital dislocation of the hip that caused her to limp, prone to bouts of tuberculosis and depression, stood out neither for her beauty nor for her personality. “Very intelligent and serious, petite, delicate, dark and anything but beautiful” the description given by a friend, the author reports.
Albert, on the other hand, a discreet violin player, he was a handsome young man who impressed women of the early twentieth century. Over the years Mileva would become Einstein’s muse, partner, lover, wife and his opponent. The relationship with Mileva was opposed by the Einstein family and the father alone on his deathbed agreed to the marriage. Mileva’s tendency to depression grew over time for various reasons: the story of Lieserl, the jealousy of Albert’s real or alleged flirtations, the frustration at having seen the dreams of a university career fade while, after the first years of economic hardship, her husband became the genius of physics and she was reserved the role of wife and mother. Isaacson’s book does well to devote several chapters to this phase of Einstein’s life, because precisely in those years, tormented from a personal point of view, the ideas on relativity destined to revolutionize our way of conceiving the Universe took shape.
Of Einstein they are often given for established facts that are instead false. For example, that as a student he did badly in mathematics and that he had been postponed in this subject. Einstein himself in 1935 denied the rumor by assuring that he had never been put off in mathematics and adding: Before I was 15 I mastered differential and integral calculus. Furthermore, that he could hardly follow the gymnasium, instead in 1929 the former principal of his school published a letter certifying that Einstein’s grades were brilliant. Another belief that in 1921 he obtained the Nobel Prize for the theory of relativity: the prize was awarded to him for the discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.
Einstein’s aversion to dogma was inherent, religious or political, and in particular the militarism of Germany at the end of the nineteenth century which led him to renounce German citizenship (later taken up) well before the useless massacre of the Great War and the horrors of the Second World War. The years at the Patent Office and life with Mileva are extraordinary for Einstein’s scientific production. It was the free time left by the analysis, elementary for one of his caliber, of the technical characteristics of the electrical devices that allowed Albert to elaborate the ideas that led to special relativity in 1905 and it was thanks to Mileva that he found at home the spur to continue in an uncharted territory.
Einstein had a straightforward character, intolerant of any kind of authoritarianism, that it hadn’t helped him find a teaching position at the university. That’s why he finally had to resign himself to accepting a job at the Patent Office. You know that my love has a sharp tongue and a Jew too, Mileva wrote to a friend. His irreverence and the anti-Semitism of others had closed all doors to him in Germany and Switzerland, so much so that Einstein tried to get a job in Italy, a country he knew well from having lived between Milan and Pavia, where his father had transferred his family business.
Historians of science have questioned Mileva’s influence on Albert. According to all the available clues, Isaacson says, he helped check the math, but he does not appear to have formulated any of Einstein’s mathematical concepts. She herself never claimed to have made any substantial contribution to his theories. Mileva helped him solve some math problems, but no one could help him in creative work, in the search for new ideas. Their marriage broke down in 1914, but Einstein had long been away from her after having entered into a relationship with his cousin Elsa. The separation was the source of long and bitter quarrels between Albert and Mileva over the right to see the two children and the money for the maintenance of the woman. They divorced in 1919 when Einstein played an unscrupulous card: The Nobel money – in case it is attributed to me – will be given entirely to you, he wrote in a letter. On the other hand Mileva had helped Einstein for the 1905 articles with math, proofreading and support. The Nobel Prize came two years later, along with the divorce money. The money for the wedding had come thanks to a recommendation. Everything else history. Indeed, science.
The volume on newsstands for a month with the Corriere
The book by the American essayist Walter Isaacson will be released on Saturday 13 March on newsstands with Corriere della Sera, Einstein. His life, his universe, on sale at a price of € 12.90 plus the cost of the newspaper. The initiative, created in collaboration with the Mondadori publishing house, intends to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the great physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), which falls tomorrow, March 14, but also to commemorate the centenary of the Nobel Prize in Physics who it was assigned to him in 1921 for his 1905 research on the explanation of the photoelectric effect. The biography of Einstein written by Isaacson, considered a classic of its kind, was originally published in the United States by the Simon & Schuster publisher in 2007 and was published in Italy the following year by Mondadori in the translation by Tullio Cannillo, which is now revived from the Corriere della Sera.
The volume, which remains on newsstands for a month, traces the life of the illustrious scientist of Jewish origin, born in Germany in Ulm, then naturalized Swiss and later became a citizen of the United States, after being forced into exile by the advent of the Adolf Hitler regime. And he also examines his thinking, both in terms of the extraordinary scientific discoveries, which allowed him to emerge from a position as clerk at the Bern Patent Office, and in reference to his philosophical conceptions. The author of the volume, Walter Isaacson, born in New Orleans in 1952, has held important journalistic positions and has published several biographies of famous people.
March 12, 2021 (change March 12, 2021 | 22:07)