by Walter Isaacson

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024

What are the big ideas? 1. Einstein's political beliefs and activism: This book provides a nuanced perspective on Albert Einstein's political views, which went beyo

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Einstein's political beliefs and activism: This book provides a nuanced perspective on Albert Einstein's political views, which went beyond his opposition to Nazism and his support for Zionism. The author highlights how Einstein advocated for international cooperation, individual freedom, and social justice throughout his life. He opposed both fascist and communist regimes while supporting various causes related to racial equality and refugee relief.
  2. Einstein's relationship with Freud: The exchange of letters between Einstein and Freud on the topic of war and politics sheds light on their different perspectives on human nature and the possibility of controlling aggression. While Einstein believed in determinism and advocated for diplomacy, Freud saw aggression as an inherent part of human nature that could not be suppressed through reason alone.
  3. Einstein's approach to science: The book emphasizes Einstein's unique approach to scientific discovery, which was characterized by his focus on mathematical simplicity and unification. He believed in the harmony of the universe and sought to find this harmony through theoretical physics, even when faced with challenges like quantum mechanics and nuclear energy.
  4. The impact of Einstein's political activism: This book illustrates how Einstein's political activism influenced his legacy and the broader context of science and society. His opposition to totalitarianism and advocacy for civil liberties during the Red Scare era highlighted the importance of academic freedom and individual rights in scientific research and intellectual pursuits.
  5. The study of Einstein's brain: The book discusses the controversial history of the scientific studies on Einstein's brain, which were motivated by the belief that his exceptional intellect could be explained by unique physical features. While the findings have been mixed, the book sheds light on the enduring fascination with Einstein's genius and the search for answers to the age-old question: "What makes a great mind?"

Chapter Summaries

CHAPTER ONE The Light-Beam Rider


  • Albert Einstein produced four groundbreaking papers during his spare time, revolutionizing physics and laying the foundations for relativity and quantum theory.
  • The first paper argued that light can be regarded as both a wave and a stream of tiny particles called quanta.
  • The second determined the true sizes of atoms.
  • The third explained the jittery motion of microscopic particles in liquid using statistical analysis, establishing the existence of atoms and molecules.
  • The fourth introduced the Special Theory of Relativity, discarding Newton's concepts of absolute space and time.
  • Einstein produced a fifth paper that year, positing a relationship between energy and mass, leading to the famous equation E=mc².
  • Einstein was a nonconformist, imaginative, rebellious, and driven by faith in the harmony of nature.
  • His theories reflected the disruption of societal certainties and moral absolutes in the modern era.
  • His work had a personal character, making imaginative leaps through thought experiments rather than experimental data.
  • Einstein became a scientific supernova and humanist icon, known for his simple humanity and kindness.
  • Science is inspiring and noble, with the pursuit an enchanting mission, as shown by Einstein's life.
  • An appreciation for science helps us remain in touch with wonder about ordinary things, fostering creativity and imagination.


“Critical comments by students should be taken in a friendly spirit,” he said. “Accumulation of material should not stifle the student’s independence.” A society’s competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity.”

“Therein lies the key, I think, to Einstein's brilliance and the lessons of his life. As a young student he never did well with rote learning. And later, as a theorist, his success came not from the brute strength of his mental processing power but from his imagination and creativity.”

CHAPTER TWO Childhood, 1879–1896


  • Albert Einstein attended Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich from 1895 to 1896.
  • He did not excel academically, but was an excellent violinist and showed a strong aptitude for mathematics and physics.
  • In the autumn of 1895, Einstein fell in love with Marie Winteler, a student teacher.
  • In January 1896, Einstein renounced his German citizenship and became stateless.
  • He finished his year at Luitpold Gymnasium with good grades, especially in science and math.
  • In the summer of 1896, Einstein's electrical business in Pavia failed again, and his father Hermann opened a new dynamo business in Milan, which also eventually failed.
  • Albert decided to enroll in the Zurich Polytechnic to study mathematics and physics.
  • In his exam application, Einstein noted that he had no religious denomination.
  • Einstein's plan for the future was to study mathematics and physics at the Zurich Polytechnic and become a teacher of these subjects. He was attracted to the independence offered by the profession of science.


“Einstein had a mild form of echolalia, causing him to repeat phrases to himself, two or three times, especially if they amused him.”

“I believe that love is a better teacher than a sense of duty,” he said, “at least for me.”

“We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

“When a person can take pleasure in marching in step to a piece of music it is enough to make me despise him. He has been given his big brain only by mistake.”

“I was originally supposed to become an engineer,” he later wrote a friend, “but the thought of having to expend my creative energy on things that make practical everyday life even more refined, with a bleak capital gain as the goal, was unbearable to me. Thinking for its own sake, like music!”72”

CHAPTER THREE The Zurich Polytechnic, 1896–1900


  • Einstein met Mileva Marić, a Serbian student at the Polytechnic, in 1895. They shared an intellectual curiosity and a rebellious spirit.
  • Their relationship began as a friendship, but it evolved into a romantic one. They supported each other academically and personally.
  • In 1898, Mileva dropped out of the university due to poor grades. Einstein graduated in July 1900 with a 4.9 average.
  • After graduation, Einstein worked on research projects proposed by his professor, but none were approved. He eventually submitted a thesis on heat conduction, which he and Mileva completed together. They received the lowest grades in their class.
  • Einstein expressed his disdain for the rigidity of the education system, but he continued to study science during his free time.
  • Their letters reveal a deep intellectual connection and a playful, affectionate relationship. They discussed scientific theories, shared books, and planned future studies together.
  • Mileva returned to the university in 1901 to complete her degree. She finished with high grades, while Einstein went on to study physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

CHAPTER FOUR The Lovers, 1900–1904


  • Albert Einstein married Mileva Mari in January 1903, without the presence of family members.
  • They had a daughter named Lieserl, born in December 1902, who was given up for adoption or died due to scarlet fever. The exact fate of Lieserl remains uncertain.
  • Mari and Einstein moved to Bern and faced financial difficulties.
  • Mari became increasingly gloomy, and Einstein felt a sense of inner resistance towards marrying her.
  • In May 1904, they had a son named Hans Albert Einstein.
  • Milos Mari, Mileva's father, offered a significant dowry for their daughter but was declined by Einstein.


“Blind respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

“You have to remain critically vigilant.” Question every premise, challenge conventional wisdom, and never accept the truth of something merely because everyone else views it as obvious. Resist being credulous.”

CHAPTER FIVE The Miracle Year: Quanta and Molecules, 1905


  • In May 1905, Einstein published a paper on Brownian motion, which explained the random movements of small particles suspended in a fluid based on the molecular-kinetic theory of heat.
  • He did not intend to explain Brownian motion observations directly but rather used it as an application of his statistical analysis of molecular collisions.
  • Einstein's predictions about particle displacement could be tested experimentally and were later confirmed, providing strong evidence for the existence of atoms and molecules.
  • This paper also offered a method to determine Avogadro's number.
  • While working on Brownian motion, Einstein had another idea that would lead him to develop his theory of special relativity.

CHAPTER SIX Special Relativity, 1905


  • Albert Einstein published four groundbreaking papers in 1905, revolutionizing our understanding of space and time (special relativity), energy and mass (E=mc²), Brownian motion, and photoelectric effect.
  • Special relativity postulates that the laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another and that the speed of light is constant for all observers.
  • E=mc² states that energy (E) is equal to mass (m) times the square of the speed of light (c²). This equation shows the interchangeability between mass and energy.
  • Einstein's Brownian motion paper explained how tiny particles suspended in a fluid are agitated by thermal motion, leading to random movement.
  • The photoelectric effect paper described the relationship between electromagnetic radiation and the emission of electrons from a metal surface when struck by light.
  • Lorentz and Poincaré influenced Einstein's development of special relativity with their earlier work on transformations of space and time.
  • Mileva Mari, Einstein's wife, supported him emotionally and mathematically during this period but did not contribute creatively to the development of his theories.


“Einstein rejected the emission theory in favor of postulating that the speed of a light beam was constant no matter how fast its source was moving.”

“Since the mathematicians have grabbed hold of the theory of relativity, I myself no longer understand it.”

CHAPTER SEVEN The Happiest Thought, 1906–1909


  • Einstein's marriage to Mileva Marić was marked by jealousy and professional rivalry, particularly regarding his growing fame.
  • In 1909, Einstein received an offer to become a professor at the University of Zurich. However, he declined due to a lower salary than what he was earning at the patent office. He eventually accepted after the offer was raised.
  • During the Salzburg Naturforscher conference in September 1909, Einstein presented his view that light exhibits wave-particle duality, a concept that challenged classical physics and required a new interpretation of Maxwell's equations.
  • Planck, who was also at the conference, disagreed with Einstein and tried to protect the old order. The debate set the stage for future developments in quantum mechanics.

CHAPTER EIGHT The Wandering Professor, 1909–1914


  • In the summer of 1914, Einstein's marriage to Mileva Marić was coming apart at the seams. He had fallen in love with Elsa Lowenthal and was planning to move to Berlin to take up a position at the Prague Institute for Physical Research.
  • Einstein and Marić had two sons, Hugo and Albert, whom he deeply loved and bonded to. Marić also had an extramarital affair with Vladimir Variak, which Einstein knew about but did not confront her about.
  • In July 1914, Marić accepted a contract drawn up by Fritz Haber that required her to maintain certain household duties for Einstein while renouncing all personal relations between them except for social reasons. This contract effectively ended their marriage and began the process of a divorce.
  • Einstein was deeply emotional about losing his children, and he stayed at Elsa's parents' house in Berlin after learning of this separation agreement. He left the meeting at Haber's house and went directly to their house, which they received with mild distaste.
  • Over the following days, Marić moved back to Zurich with their sons while Einstein stayed in Berlin with Elsa. They eventually reached a divorce agreement that required him to pay her 5,600 marks annually, just under half of his primary salary.
  • The day after Marić and their sons left for Zurich, Einstein went to visit his mother in Berlin, who had never liked Marić and was delighted by the separation. Elsa's parents also received the news with mild distaste but felt somewhat justified by it.
  • In July 1914, Europe began its most incomprehensibly bloody war in its history: World War I. Einstein reacted to this turmoil by throwing himself into his science.


“Loyalty to a party, Einstein felt, meant surrendering some independence of thought. Such conformity confounded him. “How an intelligent man can subscribe to a party I find a complete mystery,”

“To dwell on the things that depress or anger us does not help in overcoming them. One must knock them down alone.” His”

CHAPTER NINE General Relativity, 1911–1915


  • Einstein's theory of general relativity revolutionized our understanding of gravity, space, and time.
  • It was based on his earlier special theory of relativity, which introduced the concept of spacetime as a four-dimensional fabric.
  • In general relativity, gravity is no longer a force but rather a curvature of spacetime caused by mass and energy.
  • Einstein's equations for general relativity were published in November 1915, after a race with Hilbert to find the covariant field equations.
  • General relativity explained phenomena like Mercury's anomalous precession and gravitational lensing of light.
  • It has been confirmed by numerous experiments and observations, including the bending of light during solar eclipses and the gravitational redshift effect.
  • The theory is considered one of the greatest achievements in human history, demonstrating the power of mathematical thought to explain natural phenomena.

CHAPTER TEN Divorce, 1916–1919


  • Einstein and Elsa married in June 1919, despite Ilse's letter suggesting competition.
  • Hans Albert visited Berlin frequently during this time, but Mari was rarely present.
  • Ilse wrote a letter to Nicolai, expressing her love for Albert and her desire to marry him, which he did not destroy as instructed.
  • The marriage between Einstein and Elsa was practical, rather than romantic or intellectual.
  • Elsa managed their finances efficiently and served as their translator when they traveled.
  • Hans Albert went sailing with Einstein and played music together during this visit.
  • Relations between Einstein's first family and his new marriage appeared calm.


“One of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness. Such men make this cosmos and its construction the pivot of their emotional life, in order to find the peace and security which they cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN Einstein’s Universe, 1916–1919


  • In 1919, during a solar eclipse expedition led by British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, it was discovered that light is indeed deflected by gravity, as predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity.
  • Eddington's team took photographs of stars near the sun during the eclipse and measured the apparent shift in their positions. The results showed a deflection of about 1.6 arc-seconds, which was later averaged with other data to confirm Einstein's prediction of 1.75 arc-seconds.
  • The discovery confirmed that mass warps spacetime, and it marked a significant departure from Newtonian physics, which had been the dominant theory for over two centuries.
  • The confirmation of general relativity revolutionized our understanding of the universe and paved the way for further advances in theoretical physics, including the development of quantum mechanics and the discovery of black holes.


“The skeptical Silberstein came up to Eddington and said that people believed that only three scientists in the world understood general relativity. He had been told that Eddington was one of them. The shy Quaker said nothing. “Don’t be so modest, Eddington!” said Silberstein. Replied Eddington, “On the contrary. I’m just wondering who the third might be.”30”



  • Einstein's relationship with his family, particularly his wife Mileva and sons Hans Albert and Eduard, was complex and often strained.
  • Their marriage was marked by scientific collaborations, financial struggles, personal disagreements, and infidelities on both sides.
  • The couple had two sons, Hans Albert (born 1904) and Eduard (born 1910), who experienced the tumultuous relationship between their parents.
  • Einstein's mother, Pauline Koch, died in 1920, leaving him emotionally drained but also grateful for her love and care throughout his life.
  • Relativity theory, which challenged classical views on time and space, was popularly linked to a new relativism in morality and culture, despite Einstein's objections.
  • This misinterpretation contributed to the belief that relativity theory undermined traditional values and certainties, leading to societal unrest and a sense of uncertainty.
  • In reality, Einstein held absolute moral convictions and believed in the objectivity of truth.
  • The popular association of relativity with relativism influenced modernist art, literature, philosophy, and politics.
  • Modernism emerged as a response to the breakdown of old strictures and certainties, with figures like Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce, Eliot, Freud, and Wittgenstein leading the charge.
  • The scientific revolution that produced relativity theory also influenced modernist art and literature, inspiring works that defied traditional forms and structures.
  • This period of revolutionary change saw the publication of influential works like Einstein's special theory of relativity (1905), Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Joyce's Ulysses (1922), Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), and Stravinsky's Renard (1922).
  • The modernist movement sought to break free from the constraints of classical thought, inspiring a new era of artistic, literary, philosophical, and scientific exploration.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Wandering Zionist, 1920–1921


  • Einstein's tour of Asia and Palestine (1922-1923) was a six-month excursion, marking his only visit to those regions.
  • He was treated as a celebrity wherever he went, but felt uneasy about it due to the unjust treatment of fellow humans in Asia.
  • In Japan, Einstein gave long lectures despite the desire for shorter ones and received substantial financial rewards.
  • He expressed fondness for the Japanese, admiring their modesty, intelligence, consideration, and appreciation for art.
  • Upon arrival in Palestine (then under British rule), Einstein was greeted with pomp as a head of state rather than a theoretical physicist.
  • Despite feeling sorry for his listeners due to long lectures in unfamiliar languages, Einstein continued giving lengthy speeches out of concern for upsetting hosts by shortening them.
  • Upon arrival at the British high commissioner's palace in Jerusalem, Einstein and Elsa arrived late and tired, having insisted on traveling in coach-class train instead of first-class sleeping car prepared for them.
  • Although unpretentious, Einstein and Elsa arrived with regret and embarrassment due to grandiose receptions they received despite their tardiness and lack of cultural refinement.
  • He visited the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem, feeling a mix of deepening Jewish heritage appreciation and disdain for religious people.
  • Einstein expressed excitement about the industrious nature of Palestine's Jewish people, evoking feelings of pride and future recognition for their nation.
  • Despite expressing happiness about the sight of the Jewish people learning to recognize themselves in a powerful force within the world, he remained discreet regarding any plans for staying in Jerusalem due to lack of peace or privacy.


“Everyone must, from time to time, make a sacrifice on the altar of stupidity, to please the deity and mankind.”

“During the crossing, Einstein explained his theory to me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it.”

“Subtle is the Lord, but malicious he is not.”*”

“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think, he [Einstein] said.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN Nobel Laureate, 1921–1927


  • Einstein's development of the theory of general relativity challenged classical concepts such as absolute space and time, leading to a new understanding of gravity and the universe as a whole.
  • In the mid-1920s, quantum mechanics emerged as a revolutionary theory that described the behavior of subatomic particles at the smallest scales. It introduced concepts such as wave-particle duality and uncertainty principle, which challenged classical notions of causality and determinism.
  • Einstein initially embraced some aspects of quantum mechanics, particularly the wave-particle duality of matter, but grew increasingly skeptical due to its departure from strict causality and determinism.
  • Heisenberg's uncertainty principle stated that it is impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle with absolute certainty at the same time, which further challenged the notion of objective reality.
  • Despite his reservations, Einstein continued to defend classical mechanics and its principles of causality and determinism. He believed in an external world that exists independently of observations and sought a theory that could reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics while maintaining these principles.
  • Einstein's belief in determinism and causality, rooted in his philosophical influences such as Baruch Spinoza, made it difficult for him to fully accept the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics.
  • Throughout his life, Einstein remained committed to finding a unified theory that would reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics while upholding the principles of causality and determinism. However, no such theory was found during his lifetime.


“Einstein would not, as it turned out, ever win a Nobel for his work on relativity and gravitation, nor for anything other than the photoelectric effect.”

“To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN Unified Field Theories, 1923–1931


  • Albert Einstein's philosophy of science was influenced by empiricism and realism, but he also valued simplicity and mathematical elegance.
  • Einstein's belief in the possibility of discovering concepts and laws connecting them through purely mathematical constructions guided his ongoing quest for a unified field theory.
  • His faith that experiments will follow the mathematical flag contrasted with modern particle physics which seems ruled by chance and probabilities.
  • In 1931, Einstein visited Mount Wilson Observatory and learned about Edwin Hubble's discoveries of Andromeda nebula being another galaxy and expanding universe.
  • He reluctantly added cosmological constant to field equations for stable universe but later renounced it as evidence of expanding universe confirmed.


“It was a sunny day, and Einstein merrily played with the telescope’s dials and instruments. Elsa came along as well, and it was explained to her that the equipment was used to determine the scope and shape of the universe. She reportedly replied, “Well, my husband does that on the back of an old envelope.”

CHAPTER SIXTEEN Turning Fifty, 1929–1931


  • Einstein's political beliefs included pacifism, war resistance, individualism, social justice, and opposition to nationalism and totalitarian regimes.
  • He was critical of the League of Nations and its inability to prevent war or disarmament.
  • He advocated for international cooperation and the surrender of some national sovereignty to a supranational organization for achieving peace.
  • Einstein's political views evolved throughout his life, but his commitment to individual freedom and opposition to totalitarianism remained consistent.
  • Einstein supported various social justice causes, including the rights of underrepresented groups and opposition to capital punishment.
  • He was critical of the Soviet Union under Stalin and opposed communist regimes, but he also opposed fascist and other right-wing regimes.
  • Einstein's exchange of letters with Sigmund Freud on the topic of war and politics highlighted their different perspectives on human nature and the possibility of controlling aggression.


“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. —ALBERT EINSTEIN, IN A LETTER TO HIS SON EDUARD, FEBRUARY 5, 1930”

“What do you think of Adolf Hitler?” Einstein replied, “He is living on the empty stomach of Germany. As soon as economic conditions improve, he will no longer be important.”

“Concern for making life better for ordinary humans must be the chief object of science.”

“I believe that the most important mission of the state is to protect the individual and to make it possible for him to develop into a creative personality,”

“Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and honest pacts with the Arabs,” he wrote Weizmann in 1929, “then we have learned absolutely nothing during our 2,000 years of suffering.”



  • Albert Einstein held religious beliefs that were different from traditional monotheistic religions, instead embracing an impersonal deity and a belief in the harmony of the universe.
  • He rejected the notion of a God who interferes with human affairs or violates causality.
  • Einstein believed in determinism, which is the idea that all events are determined by prior causes and cannot be changed, even though this belief conflicted with some aspects of ethics and morality.
  • Despite his intellectual belief in determinism, Einstein acted as if humans have free will and were responsible for their actions.
  • He believed that human beings should strive for morality and act responsibly to contribute to a civilized society.


“Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind.”

“How did he get his ideas? “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.5 People”

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

“science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

“Use for yourself little,” he said, “but give to others much.”26”

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The Refugee, 1932–1933


  • Albert Einstein moved to Belgium in 1932 due to increasing anti-Semitism in Germany and the threats against his life.
  • In 1933, he decided to go to England for a few months to escape the danger of being sent back to Germany.
  • While in England, Einstein gave speeches advocating for intellectual and individual freedom, emphasizing their importance for creativity and scientific progress.
  • He was a vocal critic of fascism and communism, making it clear that he opposed any dictatorships that would enslave individuals.
  • During this time, Einstein's friend Paul Ehrenfest committed suicide, which deeply affected him.
  • Einstein also learned that the Woman Patriot Corporation and others were trying to bar him from entering America due to his alleged political leanings or subversive activities. He issued statements clarifying his political stance to avoid controversy upon arriving in the United States.
  • In England, Einstein stayed at a cottage owned by British Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, who was an advocate for preparing to fight against the Nazi regime.
  • During this stay, Einstein met Winston Churchill and other influential figures. He also gave interviews explaining his political beliefs and opposing both fascism and communism.


“For a scientist, altering your doctrines when the facts change is not a sign of weakness.”

“Falling in love is not the most stupid thing that people do,” Einstein scribbled on the letter, “but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.”

“If we want to resist the powers that threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom, we must be clear what is at stake,” he said. “Without such freedom there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur, no Lister.” Freedom was a foundation for creativity.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN America, 1933–1939


  • Albert Einstein moved into 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1935, where he would live for the rest of his life.
  • His wife Elsa died in December 1936 at the age of 60. Einstein was deeply affected by her death and found solace in work.
  • Einstein continued to be active in refugee relief efforts, supporting individuals who needed financial guarantees to emigrate and giving speeches and concerts for the cause. He also advocated for racial tolerance and equality.
  • Einstein's willingness to support various causes and organizations led some to suspect him of being a dupe for communists or other subversives. However, he declined to sign on to some crusades that attacked Stalin or the Soviets and instead believed in private efforts to address political issues.
  • In 1937, Einstein welcomed his son Hans Albert and his family to America, where they eventually settled in Clemson, South Carolina.
  • Einstein's nephew Eduard was institutionalized due to mental illness and could not emigrate to America. Mari descended into despair as her sister Zorka became an alcoholic and died a recluse in 1938.
  • In the late 1930s, Einstein expressed sympathy for the plight of Jews in Europe but distanced himself from some former Marxist friends who had become ardently anticommunist. He also declined to sign on to public commissions to investigate political trials in Moscow.
  • Einstein believed that both Stalin and Trotsky were "political gangsters" and that war would eventually lead Hitler to realize the harm he had done by driving out Jewish scientists from Germany.


“When shown his office, he was asked what equipment he might need. “A desk or table, a chair, paper and pencils,” he replied. “Oh yes, and a large wastebasket, so I can throw away all my mistakes.”

“His son Peter Bucky happily spent time driving Einstein around, and he later wrote down some of his recollections in extensive notebooks. They provide a delightful picture of the mildly eccentric but deeply un-affected Einstein in his later years. Peter tells, for example, of driving in his convertible with Einstein when it suddenly started to rain. Einstein pulled off his hat and put it under his coat. When Peter looked quizzical, Einstein explained: “You see, my hair has withstood water many times before, but I don’t know how many times my hat can.”

“One day someone called the Institute and asked to speak to a particular dean. When his secretary said that the dean wasn’t available, the caller hesitantly asked for Einstein’s home address. That was not possible to give out, he was informed. The caller’s voice then dropped to a whisper. “Please don’t tell anybody,” he said, “but I am Dr. Einstein, I’m on my way home, and I’ve forgotten where my house is.”40”

CHAPTER TWENTY Quantum Entanglement, 1935


  • Einstein's quest for a unified field theory grew more challenging as new forces and particles were discovered in physics, which he chose to ignore or downplay.
  • He continued to believe that mathematical simplicity was a feature of nature's handiwork and pursued this idea through various approaches, collaborating with young physicists like Ernst Straus.
  • Despite the lack of physical insights guiding his efforts, Einstein remained committed to the search for a unified theory, believing that "the search for truth is more precious than its possession."
  • In 1939, news of nuclear fission reached Princeton, and Einstein became interested in its potential implications. However, he initially expressed skepticism about practical applications of the process.


“Physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky action at a distance.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE The Bomb, 1939–1945


  • Einstein arrived in the United States in 1933, fleeing Nazi Germany. He initially settled in Princeton, New Jersey, where he took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study.
  • In 1939, Einstein and other scientists wrote a letter to President Roosevelt warning of the possibility of building an atomic bomb and urging the US government to take action.
  • Einstein became a naturalized citizen in October 1940. He was impressed by America's tolerance of free thought and speech.
  • In 1942, Einstein worked on a problem related to isotope separation for the Manhattan Project, which aimed to develop an atomic bomb.
  • Einstein was not involved in the development of the atomic bomb, but he later regretted his role in encouraging the US to pursue this technology. He believed that international control of atomic weapons was necessary to prevent an arms race and prevent future wars.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO One-Worlder, 1945–1948


  • Einstein opposed totalitarianism and militarism in all forms, whether it was Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.
  • He supported socialist economic policies but was wary of centralized power and bureaucracy.
  • He denounced racial discrimination in America and spoke out against it.
  • He felt deep anger towards the Germans for their crimes during World War II and refused to allow his books to be sold there or to participate in any German scientific society.
  • He remained a contrarian citizen, fiercely protective of individual liberties and distrustful of government interference, but he saw these values as essential to being an American.
  • The FBI kept a dossier on him due to his anti-militaristic views and anti-Nazi sentiments, but there was no solid evidence that he posed any real threat to the security of the United States.
  • Einstein supported Henry Wallace for President in 1948, who advocated greater cooperation with Russia and increased social welfare spending.
  • He wrote an influential essay titled "Why Socialism?" for the inaugural issue of the Monthly Review in 1949.
  • Einstein voted for Franklin Roosevelt twice and then for Henry Wallace in 1948.
  • In 1933, he settled in Princeton, New Jersey, and never once left the United States again, except for a brief cruise to Bermuda that was necessary for his immigration process.
  • He opposed totalitarianism and militarism in all forms, whether it was Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.
  • He supported socialist economic policies but was wary of centralized power and bureaucracy.
  • He denounced racial discrimination in America and spoke out against it.
  • He felt deep anger towards the Germans for their crimes during World War II and refused to allow his books to be sold there again or to participate in any German scientific society.
  • He remained a contrarian citizen, fiercely protective of individual liberties and distrustful of government interference, but he saw these values as essential to being an American.


“Einstein was asked what the next war would look like. “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought,” he answered, “but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks.”

“Tolerance of free expression and independence of thought, he repeatedly argued, were the core values that Americans, to his delight, most cherished.”

“In it he argued that unrestrained capitalism produced great disparities of wealth, cycles of boom and depression, and festering levels of unemployment. The system encouraged selfishness instead of cooperation, and acquiring wealth rather than serving others. People were educated for careers rather than for a love of work and creativity. And political parties became corrupted by political contributions from owners of great capital.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Landmark, 1948–1953


  • Einstein opposed the idea of a Jewish state before World War II, but after the war, he changed his stance and supported Israel's creation.
  • In 1952, Israel's new president Chaim Weizmann died, and there were calls for Einstein to replace him.
  • Einstein received an official offer from Israeli authorities, but he declined due to his lack of aptitude for dealing with people and official functions, as well as concerns about potential conflicts with his conscience.


“Politics is for the present, while our equations are for eternity.”

“Einstein was filled with good humor and sagacity, both qualities lacking in Gödel, whose intense logic sometimes overwhelmed common sense. This was on glorious display when Gödel decided to become a U.S. citizen in 1947. He took his preparation for the exam very seriously, studied the Constitution carefully, and (as might be expected by the formulator of the incompleteness theory) found what he believed was a logical flaw. There was an internal inconsistency, he insisted, that could allow the entire government to degenerate into tyranny.

Concerned, Einstein decided to accompany — or chaperone — Gödel on his visit to Trenton to take the citizenship test, which was to be administered by the same judge who had done so for Einstein. On the drive, he and a third friend tried to distract Gödel and dissuade him from mentioning this perceived flaw, but to no avail. When the judge asked him about the constitution, Gödel launched into his proof that the internal inconsistency made a dictatorship possible. Fortunately, the judge, who by now cherished his connection to Einstein, cut Gödel off. ‘You needn’t go into all that,’ he said, and Gödel’s citizenship was saved.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Red Scare, 1951–1954


  • Albert Einstein publicly opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunt, advocating for civil disobedience and academic freedom.
  • His intervention included writing letters to individuals facing HUAC investigations and speaking out in public forums, despite facing criticism from the media and some members of the scientific community.
  • Einstein's stance put him at odds with Senator McCarthy and other anti-communist figures, but also garnered him support from intellectuals and civil libertarians.
  • His actions contributed to a national debate on academic freedom and the role of government in investigating alleged subversive activities.
  • Despite his vocal opposition to McCarthyism, Einstein's academic career and personal safety were not significantly impacted, unlike that of other scientists and intellectuals who faced more severe consequences for their political beliefs.


“Every reasonable person must strive to promote moderation and a more objective judgment.”

“America’s most dangerous internal threat, he felt, came not from communist subversives but from those who used the fear of communists to trample civil liberties. “America is incomparably less endangered by its own Communists than by the hysterical hunt for the few Communists that are here,” he told the socialist leader Norman Thomas.”

“Besides, I believe that older people who have scarcely anything to lose ought to be willing to speak out in behalf of those who are young and are subject to much greater restraint.”



  • Einstein's final days were marked by his efforts to promote peace and disarmament, as well as his ongoing quest for a unified field theory.
  • He refused surgery for an aortic aneurysm and died on April 18, 1955, at the age of 76.
  • His last words were in German and could not be understood by those present. The draft of his speech for Israel Independence Day was found beside his bed.
  • He left behind twelve pages of tightly written equations, filled with corrections and cross-outs.
  • Einstein's legacy continues to inspire and influence science and society.


“By then Einstein had finally discovered what was fundamental about America: it can be swept by waves of what may seem, to outsiders, to be dangerous political passions but are, instead, passing sentiments that are absorbed by its democracy and righted by its constitutional gyroscope. McCarthyism had died down, and Eisenhower had proved a calming influence. “God’s own country becomes stranger and stranger,” Einstein wrote Hans Albert that Christmas, “but somehow they manage to return to normality. Everything—even lunacy—is mass produced here. But everything goes out of fashion very quickly.”9 Almost”

“He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn illusion.”

“The attitude we adopt toward the Arab minority will provide the real test of our moral standards as a people,”

“It is tasteless to prolong life artificially,” he told Dukas. “I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

EPILOGUE Einstein’s Brain and Einstein’s Mind


  • Einstein requested that his ashes be scattered and not cremated fully, but his brain was removed and kept without permission by a pathologist named Thomas Harvey.
  • Harvey sent pieces of Einstein's brain to various researchers over the years for study, causing media attention and controversy.
  • There have been three significant scientific studies on Einstein's brain, with mixed results regarding its unique features compared to other brains.
  • Einstein's curiosity and imagination were key to his scientific achievements, expressed through visual thinking and mental experiments.
  • Einstein equated curiosity with religious feelings and believed it created minds that question and appreciate the universe.
  • Einstein's approach to science was characterized by simplicity and a focus on unification.
  • Einstein was a nonconformist who rebelled against dogma and fought for freedom of thought.
  • Humility and a spirit of tolerance were essential to Einstein's philosophy, which emphasized the importance of free minds and creativity.


“He was a loner with an intimate bond to humanity, a rebel who was suffused with reverence. And thus it was that an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.”


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