Albert Einstein remains an iconic figure and one of history’s most important scientists.
Voted the greatest physicist of all time by Physics World, and revered for his intellectual and scientific contributions, Einstein is widely acknowledged as a genius. But despite the enormous professional success of Albert Einstein, historical accounts of his personal life cast a dark shadow over his many achievements.
In Walter Isaacson’s book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, he is painted as a troubled man, struggling to maintain any semblance of a functioning personal life. Indeed, Isaacson’s claims are supported in letters published by Princeton Press, titled, The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.
In fact, the letters prove very damning for Einstein, revealing a brooding, controlling man whose treatment of his wife, Mileva Maric, was cold, calculating, and often brutal.
Before marrying Einstein, Maric gave birth to his daughter, Lieserl, only to put her up for adoption, reputedly due to pressure from the controlling Einstein, who never actually saw his baby daughter. Once married, the couple had two sons, before Einstein embarked on an affair with his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, eventually marrying his lover.
After the divorce, Einstein had very little to do with his sons, as indicated by the elder, Hans Albert.
“Probably the only project he ever gave up on was me.”
And it was in this period that Einstein penned the medieval marital rules to which Mileva was expected to comply. In a misguided, pragmatic effort to save the marriage for the sake of their children, Einstein issued his cold demands.
The first of which was that his wife should continue to act as his maid, but not to expect any affection or attention from him.
“You are neither to expect intimacy nor to reproach me in any way.”
The gifted scientist demanded that his rooms must be kept tidy, to which three meals a day should be brought to him. His wife was also instructed to keep his clothes and laundry in excellent order, and always keep his bedroom and study neat, but must never use his desk.
Einstein also wrote that she should “renounce all personal relations” with him unless absolutely essential for social reasons. He would not sit at home with his wife and neither would he travel with her. Disturbingly, Einstein ordered his wife to obey him if asked to leave his bedroom or study and to do so immediately without protest.
“You will stop talking to me if I request it.”
Although Einstein’s wife initially agreed to his draconian demands, she eventually fled to Zurich with her sons, before filing for divorce. After the divorce was granted, Einstein married his cousin, Elsa, in 1919, only to ignite an affair with Bette Neumann, his secretary and the niece of one of the scientist’s friends.
“His conquest of general relativity proved easier than finding the formulas for the forces swirling within his family.”
Einstein’s prediction in an early letter to the mother of his first girlfriend that the “joys of science” would be a refuge from “painful personal emotions” are telling.
Perhaps it was Albert Einstein’s disastrous personal and emotional failings that made him the iconic, driven, and genius scientist? Even if that meant he and his family paid a very heavy price.
[Image: Colombo Telegraph]