Einstein was born to a middle-class German Jewish family. His parents
were concerned that he scarcely talked until the age of three, but
he was not so much a backward as a quiet child. He would build tall
houses of cards and hated playing soldier. At the age of twelve
he was fascinated by a geometry book.
"It is almost a miracle that modern teaching methods have
not yet entirely strangled the holy curiousity of inquiry; for
what this delicate little plant needs more than anything, besides
stimulation, is freedom."
At the age of fifteen Albert quit high school disgusted
by rote learning and martinet teachers, and followed his family to
Italy where they had moved their failing electrotechnical business.
After half a year of wandering and loafing, he attended a congenial
Swiss school. The next year he entered the Federal Institute of Technology
After working hard in
the laboratory but skipping lectures, Einstein graduated with an
unexceptional record. For two grim years he could find only odd
jobs, but he finally got a post as a patent examiner. He married
a former classmate.
Einstein wrote four fundamental
papers, all in a few months. The first paper claimed that light must
sometimes behave like a stream of particles with discrete energies,
"quanta." The second paper offered an experimental test for the theory
of heat and proof of the existence of atoms. The third paper addressed
a central puzzle for physicists of the day the connection between
electromagnetic theory and ordinary motion and solved it using
the "principle of relativity." The fourth showed that mass and energy
are two parts of the same thing, mass-energy (E=mc2).
"I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested
in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element.
I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details."
Einstein became an assistant professor at the
University of Zurich, his first full-time physics job. In 1911 he
moved on to the German University of Prague. He continued to publish
important physics papers, and was beginning to meet fellow scientists,
for example, at the exclusive Solvay Conference. The next year he
returned to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich as Professor.
to Berlin, taking a research post that freed him from teaching duties.
He separated from his wife and two sons. When the First World War
broke out, Einstein rejected Germany's aggressive war aims, supporting
the formation of a pacifist group.
After a decade of thought, with entire years spent
in blind alleys, Einstein completed his general theory of relativity.
Overturning ancient notions of space and time, he reached a new
understanding of gravity. Meanwhile he continued to sign petitions
"The years of anxious searching in the dark, with their
intense longing, their alternations of confidence and exhaustion
and the final emergence into the light only those who have
experienced it can understand it."
on the search
for a general theory
As Germany collapsed, Einstein
became more involved in politics and supported a new progressive party.
The next year he remarried. And his general theory of relativity received
stunning confirmation from British astronomers: as Einstein had predicted,
gravity bends starlight. In the popular eye he became a symbol of
science and of thought at its highest.
on proof of the
theory and world fame
Aided by his fame, Einstein
championed the fledgling German republican government and other liberal
causes. Partly as a result of this, he and his theory of relativity
came under vicious attack from anti-Semites. He began travelling,
attended an International Trade Union Congress in Amsterdam, and visited
the United States to help raise funds for the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem. The following year he received the Nobel Prize.
in public affairs
Einstein contributed to
the struggling new quantum theory. Meanwhile, he searched for a way
to unify the theories of electromagnetism and gravity. In 1929 he
announced a unified field theory, but the mathematics could not be
compared with experiments; his struggle toward a useful theory had
only begun. Meanwhile he argued with his colleagues, challenging their
belief that quantum theory can give a complete description of phenomena.
on the struggle
to interpret quanta
live in Germany under the new Nazi government, Einstein joined the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He turned away
from strict pacifism, and warned world political leaders to prepare
for German aggression. He also worked to rescue Jewish and other political
victims of the Nazis.
MORE on Einstein
Einstein signed a letter
that informed President F. D. Roosevelt of the possibility of nuclear
bombs, warning that the Germans might try to build them. The next
year Einstein became an American citizen.
"How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for
those who are wise and of goodwill! In such a place even I would
be an ardent patriot."
and the atomic bomb
Einstein was asked to become
the second President of the State of Israel, but declined. He was
supporting many causes, such as the United Nations and world government,
nuclear disarmament, and civil liberties.
on Einstein and
"The feeling for what ought and ought not to be grows and
dies like a tree, and no fertilizer of any kind will do much good.
What the individual can do is give a fine example, and have the
courage to firmly uphold ethical convictions in a society of cynics.
I have for a long time tried to conduct myself this way, with
for a true unified field theory for a more profound understanding
of nature continued to fill Einstein's days. While corresponding about
a new anti-war project and writing a speech for Israel, he was stricken
on Einstein's search
"One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our
science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike
and yet it is the most precious thing we have."
for a unified theory