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New Look at Genius

Albert Einstein was the greatest physicist of the 20th Century and, with Isaac Newton, one of the greatest physicists of all time. Now, more than 30 years after his death in 1955, Einstein’s papers are being published, and they are turning out to be as remarkable as the man himself.

The publication of the papers was delayed for many years by the opposition of Einstein’s executor, Otto Nathan, whom Einstein had befriended in Princeton, N.J., but who set himself up after Einstein’s death as the censor and protector of the physicist’s reputation. Many scholars who sought to work on the 43,000 papers, which eventually will fill at least 30 volumes, were blocked or severely hampered by Nathan.

But Nathan died a few years ago--as did his co-trustee, Helen Dukas, who had been Einstein’s secretary--and now the papers are in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to which Einstein had bequeathed them, and are being published by Princeton University Press under the editorship of John Stachel. The first volume (“The Early Years, 1879-1902") has just appeared.

These early papers include 51 of about 500 letters between Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, that have not been seen before. They reveal a much closer personal and scientific relationship than had previously been thought. They show a youthful, romantic side of Einstein that has not been captured by any of his biographers, and they hint at Mileva as almost a collaborator in Einstein’s 1905 relativity paper that changed the course of physics and the world.

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Einstein met Mileva in 1896, when they were both students at the Swiss Federal Polytechnical School in Zurich, had an illegitimate daughter with her in 1902, married her the following year, had two sons in the marriage, and eventually divorced her in 1919 after repeated separations. But when he wrote an autobiographical sketch in 1949 for the Schilpp volume, “Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist,” Einstein did not mention Mileva at all!

The long-awaited Einstein papers are repaying those who waited so long to see them, and the future volumes promise to be as startling as the first. They will enable people to flesh out the world’s view of this extraordinary man whose private life was beset by struggles hidden from public view.


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