Copyright ©2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Newly revealed letters offer insights into the mind, and the heart, of Albert Einstein, that story next on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Melissa Block.

NORRIS: And I'm Michele Norris.

Are you ready to play a little word association? Here we go. Albert Einstein.

If you thought E=MC2 you wouldn't be wrong, exactly, but you might want to rethink that just a little, because the last remaining trove of Einstein's letters, is being released to the public this week. And the man who wrote them is not just a reclusive scientist. He was a man who was as complicated as his equations.

Walter Isaacson has seen the letters, he's writing a biography of Einstein.

Mr. WALTER ISAACSON (Author): He had lots of girlfriends and female admirers. And he often traveled with them, and it led for, of course, a very complicated relationship with his second wife, Elsa, who also happened to be his first cousin. So it's not the most conventional personal life you've ever seen.

NORRIS: And what's interesting, is he actually talks about his dalliances with other women in these letters to his wife.

Mr. ISAACSON: Oh, yeah, he has a very good and solid relationship with Elsa, his wife, but every now and then he goes to the opera, very publicly, or goes traveling with other women admirers. I think they understood their relationships with each other pretty well, but it does seem amusing to us, from a distance.

NORRIS: Many of the biographers have painted Albert Einstein as a man who was so focused on science that he didn't have much time for developing personal relationships, and that he had a somewhat cold and distant relationship with his sons. These letters suggest otherwise.

Mr. ISAACSON: These letters show us this was a very passionate human being, and a very intense father.

NORRIS: There's one series of exchanges between Albert Einstein and his oldest son, Hans Albert, it's about a planned trip for the holidays. And his son wants to cut short that visit, and he writes that Christmas is nicest at home.

Mr. ISAACSON: Yeah, they're trying to arrange vacations between Albert Einstein, who's back in Berlin, and his sons, who have moved with his first wife, down to Zurich. The war is going on and Einstein's trying to conquer general relativity, but they keep planning for this Christmas vacation. And right at the end of November the great triumph for Einstein comes, he conquers general relativity. But his son is sending him these very cold letters, saying I think I'd rather spend time with my mother over Christmas, and I'm not going to be available to spend the entire Christmas vacation hiking with you. And so it's like a dagger to the heart of Einstein, even as his greatest scientific triumph has occurred.

NORRIS: And it's amazing, because what you see there is someone who's so vulnerable in that moment in his response, which is, if I can say it, rather thin skinned.

Mr. ISAACSON: Einstein gets so angry, and he even says I'm not going to pay for the skis that you got as your Christmas present. Eventually they do come back together. By that spring, Einstein does come down, they go hiking in the mountains together - but it's a pretty intense relationship and Einstein is very sensitive about it.

NORRIS: Now in these letters, we also learn about Albert Einstein's adjustment to public life. How did he handle his newfound celebrity?

Mr. ISAACSON: Everybody says he was shy and didn't like his fame, but that's just not the case. He has a love/hate relationship with fame and publicity. At one moment he's trying to hide from the limelight, and the next moment he's arriving with Charlie Chaplin on a red carpet for a Hollywood premiere, or giving interviews on the ship as he arrives in America.

So these letters show, most of all, that Albert Einstein was a human being, that he had a love/hate relationship with some of his kids, a love/hate relationship with publicity. And people say that's very odd, but then we look into ourselves, and say, yeah, we know people like that and sometimes we're like that.

NORRIS: Walter Isaacson thanks so much.

Mr. ISAACSON: Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Walter Isaacson, he's the former editor of Time Magazine. He's now the president of the Aspen Institute, and he's working on a biography of Albert Einstein.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.