Einstein's parents, Hermann and Pauline,
"I was the son of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents,"
"There was this huge world out there, independent of us
human beings and standing before us like a great, eternal riddle,
at least partly accessible to our inspection and thought. The
contemplation of that world beckoned like a liberation."
|One story Einstein liked
to tell about his childhood was of a "wonder" he saw
when he was four or five years old: a magnetic compass. The
needle's invariable northward swing, guided by an invisible
force, profoundly impressed the child. The compass convinced
him that there had to be "something behind things, something
deeply hidden." Even as a small boy Einstein was self-sufficient
and thoughtful. According to family legend he was a slow talker
at first, pausing to consider what he would say. His sister
remembered the concentration and perseverance with which he
would build up houses of cards to many stories. The boy's thought
was stimulated by his uncle, an engineer, and by a medical student
who ate dinner once a week at the Einsteins'.
"At the age of 12, I experienced a wonder in a booklet
dealing with Euclidean plane geometry, which came into my hands
at the beginning of a school year. Here were assertions, as for
example the intersection of the three altitudes of a triangle
in one point, which -- though by no means evident -- could nevertheless
be proved with such certainty that any doubt appeared to be out
of the question. This lucidity and certainty made an indescribable
impression on me."
School class photograph in Munich,
1889. Einstein is in the front row, second from right.
Although he got generally good grades (and was outstanding
in mathematics), Einstein hated the academic high school
he was sent to in Munich, where success depended on memorization
and obedience to arbitrary authority. His real studies were
done at home with books on mathematics, physics, and philosophy.
A teacher suggested Einstein leave school, since his very
presence destroyed the other students' respect for the teacher.
The fifteen-year-old boy did quit school in mid-term to
join his parents, who had moved to Italy.