Albert Einstein was three or four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read, and slouched his way through school. He also had some trouble remembering his address -
Later he saw that light travels as both a wave and as particles called quanta, mostly because it has to . . . And Einstein also got rid of the ether as a valid concept of physics. And he went on to find that light had mass, and space and time were simply space-time - and the universe might be shaped like a saddle.
After Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933, his every bon mot was duly recorded, and his personal quirks, such as very rarely wearing socks, were eagerly added to a fast-growing legend about the Einstein, and no longer Einstein the physicist.
Einstein's famous absentmindedness was not always so benign. In fact, he was unkind to his first wife, the physicist Mileva Maric, and at best distant with his second wife, cousin Elsa, and their son.
Below are some Albert Einstein anecdotes. A few of them may be apocrypical. Some may work for our good.
OTTO Neugebauer, the historian of ancient mathematics, told a story about the boy Einstein that he characterises as a "legend," but that seems fairly authentic.)
As he was a late talker, his parents were worried. At last, at the supper table one night, he broke his silence to say, "The soup is too hot."
Greatly relieved, his parents asked why he had never said a word before.
Albert replied, "Because up to now everything was in order."
EINSTEIN came to Princeton University in 1935 and was asked what he would require for his study. he replied: "A desk, some pads and a pencil, and a large wastebasket to hold all of my mistakes."
ONCE Einstein sent this reply, along with a page full of diagrams, to a fifteen-year-old girl who had written for help on a homework assignment:
"Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine are much greater."
RIVERSIDE Church in Manhattan planned to put up statues of the eight most famous scientists who ever lived, according to their liking. Einstein was included. When asked how it felt to be an "immortalized" living scientist in this way, Einstein answered,
"From now on, and for the rest of my life, I must be very careful not to commit a scandal."
SPEAKING at the Sorbonne during the 1930s, Einstein said, "If my relativity theory is verified, Germany will proclaim me a German and France will call me a citizen of the world. But if my theory is proved false, France will emphasize that I am a German and Germany will say that I am a Jew."
EINSTEIN went to look at a kibbutz while on a visit to Palestine in 1921. He asked many questions of the 22-year-old girl who was head of the young community. One question was,
"What is the relationship here of men to women?"
Thinking that he was one of the many visitors who thought that women were common property in the kibbutz, she stammered, very embarrassed,
"But, Herr Professor, each man here has one woman."
Einstein's eyes twinkled. He took the girl's hand and said,
"Don't be alarmed at my question - by 'relationship' we physicists understand something rather simple, namely how many men are there and how many women."
EINSTEIN was asked by his hostess at a social gathering to explain his theory of relativity. Said the great mathematician,
"Madam, I was once walking in the country on a hot day with a blind friend, and said that I would like a drink of milk."
"Milk?" said my friend, "Drink I know; but what is milk?"
"A white liquid," I replied.
"Liquid I know; but what is white?"
"The colour of a swan's feathers."
"Feathers I know; what is a swan?"
"A bird with a crooked neck."
"Neck I know; but what is this crooked?"
"Thereupon I lost patience. I seized his arm and straightened it. "That's straight," I said; and then I bent it at the elbow. "That's crooked."
"Ah!" said the blind man, "Now I know what you mean by milk!" (Fuller 1970)
THE CLASSICAL scholar Gilbert Murray one day encountered Einstein sitting in the quadrangle of Christ Church, Oxford. The exiled scientist was deep in thought, with a serene and cheerful expression on his face. Murray asked him what he was thinking about.
"I am thinking that, after all, this is a very small star," Einstein answered.
ONE DAY during his tenure as a professor, Albert Einstein was visited by a student. "The questions on this year's exam are the same as last year's!" the young man exclaimed.
"Yes," Einstein answereed, "but this year all the answers are different."
THE SCULPTOR Jacob Epstein tells this story:
"Were I wrong," he said, "one professor would have been enough." (Fuller 1970)
EINSTEIN'S wife was once asked if she understood her husband's theory of relativity.
"No," she replied loyally, "but I know my husband and I know he can be trusted."
EINSTEIN once declared that his second greatest idea after the theory of relativity was to add an egg while cooking soup in order to produce a soft-boiled egg without having an extra pot to wash.
IN 1931 Charlie Chaplin invited Albert Einstein, who was visiting Hollywood, to a private screening of his new film City Lights. As the two men drove into town together, passersby waved and cheered. Chaplin turned to his guest and explained:
"The people are applauding you because none of them understands you and applauding me because everybody understands me."
IN 1898, young Albert Einstein applied for admission to the Munich Technical Institute and was turned down. The young man, the Institute declared, "showed no promise" as a student. By 1905, he had formulated his special theory of relativity.
SIR WILLIAM Rothenstein was in Berlin doing a portrait of Einstein. The mathematician was always accompanied to the studio by a solemn, academic looking individual who sat in a corner throughout the sittings. Einstein, not wishing to waste any time, was putting forth certain tentative theories, to which the silent companion replied only by an occasional nod or shake of the head. When the work was concluded, Rothenstein, who was curious, asked Einstein who his companion was.
"That's my mathematician," said Einstein, "who examines problems which I put before him and checks their validity. You see, I am not myself a good mathematician . . ." (Fuller 1970)
SHORTLY after the publication of Einstein's general theory of relativity in 1915, the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann was surprised to discover that Einstein had failed to notice a remarkable prediction made by his equations: that the universe is expanding. This prediction was later confirmed by observations made by Edwin Hubble in the 1920s.
The cause of Einstein's oversight? He had made a stupid error in his calculations: He had divided by zero, which amounts to a big "sin" in mathematics.
"WHEN I was young I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock," Einstein once recalled. "So I stopped wearing socks."
EINSTEIN and an assistant, having finished a paper, searched the office for a paper clip. They finally found one, too badly bent for use. They looked for an implement to straighten it, and after opening many more drawers came upon a whole box of clips. Einstein at once shaped one into a tool to straighten the bent clip. His assistant, puzzled, asked why he was doing this when there was a whole boxful of usable clips.
"Once I am set on a goal it becomes difficult to deflect me," said Einstein.
[Einstein said to an assistant at Princeton that this was the most characteristic anecdote that could be told of him.]
ONE OF Einstein's colleagues asked him for his telephone number one day. Einstein reached for a telephone directory and looked it up. "You don't remember your own number?" the man asked, startled.
"No," Einstein answered. "Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?"
Einstein claimed never to memorise anything which could be looked up in less than two minutes.
Calaprice, Alice, coll. 2011. The Ultimate Quotable Einstein. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Einstein, Albert. 1954. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown Publishers.
Einsten, Albert. 2006. The World as I See It. New ed. New York: Citadel.
Fadiman, Clifton, main ed. 1985. The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Forman, Lillian E. 2009. Albert Einstein: Physicist and Genius. Edina, MN: ABDO.
Fox, Karen C., and Aries Keck. 2004. Einstein A–Z. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley and Sons.
Fuller, Edmund. 1970. 2500 Anecdotes for All Occasions. New York: Wings.
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