A valuable insight
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein:The Berlin Years—Writings &Correspondence, January 1922-March1923, Documentary Edition, Diana Kormos Buchwald, Jozsef Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, and Tilman Sauer (Eds), Princeton University Press, Pp 904, £ 85.00
PRINCETON University has been bringing out The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The 13th volume in this series is just out, covering The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, January 1922-March1923, Documentary Edition. It may be noted that this period is when he had been conferred the Nobel, in autumn of 1922 (around August). Though he was aware of his nomination unofficially, he left Berlin and headed for Japan. Interestingly, he makes no mention of the award in his travel diary. He travelled to the Far East, Palestine and Spain. His correspondence and travel notes are printed entirely in this volume. Several of these letters have never been published before. He wrote to his friends, family and colleagues. From some of the letters of his mother and Elsa (his second wife), it seems he was not a great man for details, especially those sought by them. For instance, they keep beseeching him to tell details of his meeting, after several years, with his children from his first wife Maric in Zurich.
In a reply to an invitation to him seeking lectures in Peking University, he says, “I must note, however, that I see myself compelled to make other proposals respecting the envisioned compensation. I regard this step necessary because—as much as I would have liked to do this differently—by accepting your terms I would be placing other countries too much at a disadvantage that had offered me incomparably greater compensation…” He asks for 1000 American dollars and the travel costs Tokyo-Peking, Peking-Hong Kong.
In a letter to Paul Ehrenfest, a renowned physicist (whose child had just been diagnosed with Down Syndrome) he writes, “Dear Ehrenfest, I need your friendship as much, perhaps even more, than you do mine: for my personal relationships are much feebler and sparser than yours and I have difficulty finding human contacts that make me feel good.”
HN Brailsford, editor of New Leader wrote to Einstein on 6 October, 1922, posing seven questions on the prevailing situation in Germany. He asked about the working condition of professors and teachers, the falling living standards of middle class, and “May we draw from the experience of scientific workers hope for a society based on social service instead of acquisitive gain?” Einstein replied on 11 September, answering all the seven questions, point by point. He says the salaries of the teaching and scientific community is only 20 per cent or even lesser than what it used to be. To the last question he answers, “It is only as a layman that I can answer your last question, and, further, with the utmost hesitation. I must admit with regret that I do not see how the hope of individual gain and the fear of want could be dispensed with as motives for productive work. In my opinion the community can mitigate the economic struggle of the individual, but cannot do away with it.”
Congratulating Einstein on his winning the Nobel, Niels Bohr wrote: “I would like to congratulate you most warmly on the award of the Nobel Prize…. For me it was the greatest honor and joy I could possibly get through external circumstances that I should be considered for the prize award at the same time as you. I know how little I deserve this, but I would like to say that I perceived it as a great good fortune that—quite apart from your great engagement in the human world of ideas—the fundamental contribution made by you to the more specialized field in which I work, as well as the contributions by Rutherford and Planck, should also be formally acknowledged before I should be considered for such an honor.”
This volume contains around 1000 correspondence and documents that are central to the understanding of Einstein, his work and mind. Germany was going through a crisis and so was most of Europe. He visited Paris as part of his involvement with the League of Nations. He was still heavily involved in current issues of theoretical physics.
This volume has been edited by Diana Kormos Buchwald, Jozsef Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz and Tilman Sauer. The first volume came out in 1987. All the editors are from the California Institute of Technology. Diana Kormos Buchwald, the General Editor of the series, is professor of history, Jozsef Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, and Tilman Sauer the editors of this volume are senior researchers in history. The series will contain 14,000 documents and will fill close to thirty volumes. “Sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University Press, the project is located at and supported by the California Institute of Technology, and will make available a monumental collection of primary material.”
Einstein continues to fascinate minds. His letters to various people speak his mind directly to the reader. Even for a non-science student, it makes an interesting read, one has to only jump over the technical parts.
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