The forgotten life of Einstein's first wife

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Divorce happens, but all to often we romanticize every aspect of important public figures without remembering that they were far from perfect. Cynthia Lennon, Chrisann Brennan, and Mileva Marić are not names that most people don’t instantly John Lennon, Steve Jobs, associate with Albert Einstein, and neither is the way they were treated by their partners. There is a lot more to write about this, enough for a nonfiction book.


Albert was very good at claiming credit for other people’s work. That’s why the Nobel committee pointedly did not mention Special Relativity in his prize, as that had actually been worked out by Poincaré and Lorentz (the Nobel was awarded for the photoelectric effect).


According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein, the reluctance to consider him for the Nobel prize was because the Nobel Committee placed a huge priority on experimental physics over theoretical. Most medals for physics up to that point had been given out for discoveries that led to new inventions, whereas Einstein’s work, while universally accepted as groundbreaking, didn’t seem to have any practical use. Of all his theories, the photoelectric effect seemed the closest one an experimental discovery, so they awarded him the prize for that.


The truth is, all of Einstein’s 1905 publications–the one on Special Relativity, the one on the photoelectric effect, and the one on Brownian Motion–were groundbreaking to an extent to make them Nobel prize-worthy.

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Frau Einstein.
My wife read this book a couple of months ago and came away hating Albert. I haven’t read it yet, but I trust her judgement.

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But wasn’t she, effectively, his research partner in those efforts? And don’t I recall that she did a nontrivial portion of the writing of those papers? (I could easily be misremembering, though.)

The history of my own field of physics and astronomy is over-littered with the diminishment of women’s accomplishments, and cannot all be explained away as an unenlightened pre-war age (hello, Jocelyn Bell). Even an Ein-stan like myself has to acknowledge that Albert deserves every knee to the groin he gets over Ms. Maric’s treatment by himself and history.

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