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Creep Through Albert Einstein’s Love Letters

The Digital Einstein archive offers a look into the great physicist’s writings

smithsonian.com

The freedom of “resting in peace” is one afforded only to lesser minds, apparently. In the afterlife and despite his best efforts, Albert Einstein has had no peace. Rather, scholars and the public alike have spent the years since his death digging through his life piece-by-piece—sometimes literally, as with the pathologist who stole his brain, and sometimes figuratively, as with Princeton University's new Digital Einstein archive.

In this new online trove, a project currently being spearheaded by historian Diana Kormos-Buchwald, you can find thousands of Einstein's personal documents, says Dennis Overbye for the New York Times: “letters, papers, postcards, notebooks and diaries that Einstein left scattered in Princeton and in other archives, attics and shoeboxes around the world when he died in 1955.”

Online now, 13 volumes of papers unveil roughly 5,000 documents left behind by the great physicist. There's another volume with another 1,000 documents due in January, says Overbye—still just a scratch on the pile of some 80,000 documents attributed to Einstein.

Many of the documents are innocuous: scientific papers, rough notebooks and letters to colleagues in which Einstein works to unlock the secrets of the universe. It's an incredibly important archive into the thinking of one of history's most important scientists. But some of the letters are of a more personal sort, such as those to his wife-to-be Mileva Maric—letters signed “your Albert,” “your Sweetheart” or sometimes “Johonzel.”

Ahead of his death, writes Virginia Hughes, Einstein took steps to secure his privacy:

Einstein didn’t want his brain or body to be studied; he didn’t want to be worshipped. “He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters,” writes Brian Burrell in his 2005 book, Postcards from the Brain Museum.

...Here’s how smart Einstein was — he understood all too well the public’s obsession with him, our obsession with celebrity and special-ness. He knew that if given the chance, scientists would pore over his brain’s neurons and glia, sulci and gyri, and make grand pronouncements about what makes a genius. And he knew it would be bull[----].

It's hard to imagine Einstein would want the world pouring through his love letters. But the cult of celebrity around this most famous physicist—a man who offered so much to our understanding of the world—has scarcely faded with time.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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