Einstein: His Live and Universe
By Walter Isaacson
“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious”
Just finished another biography by Walter Isaacson, “Einstein: His Life and Universe” (Hmm, I’m starting to notice that my favorite genre might be biographies). I could talk about a lot from this book, but I’ll just try to focus on one area of his remarkable life. Like the Da Vinci book, I wanted to learn more about someone who is synonymous with genius, “What are you some kind of Einstein?!” and also someone I know relatively (wink wink) nothing about.
The scientific explorations are enlightening and learning about his life is fascinating, but what you really get a sense of is the humble, wise character of Einstein himself. He was the ultimate non-conformist and that gave him the courage to always stand up for what he felt was right, no matter the personal cost. This non-conformity was a virtue as this is what allowed him to form his theory on relativity - by being able to reject the current and past beliefs about the structure of the universe. Above all, he championed the free spirit of the individual and so he was against any institution, idea or government that sought to suppress or punish free-thinking.
While he was first and foremost, a scientist, he was also very political and given today’s polarization, I couldn’t help but notice how much history repeats itself. He saw the harmful rises of Stalinism, Nazism and McCarthyism. As an outsider to the United States, and it seemed, to the world itself, he was able to see current events with greater perspective. He found plenty of flaws with the American way, but always admired its foundational support of the individual’s freedoms, which he felt was critical to new ideas and growth, and something that was often oppressed in Europe and Russia throughout his lifetime.
“By then Einstein had finally discovered what was fundamental about America: it can be swept by waves of what may seem, to outsiders, to be dangerous political passions but are, instead, passing sentiments that are absorbed by its democracy and righted by its constitutional gyroscope McCarthyism had died down, and Eisenhower had proved a calming influence. “God’s own country becomes stranger and stranger,” Einstein wrote Hans Albert that Christmas, “but somehow they manage to return to normality. Everything—even lunacy—is mass produced here. But everything goes out of fashion very quickly.”
This book was published in 2007, so it could not take into account the political polarization of today, which makes this statement comforting and hopeful. Many times throughout U.S. history, the fabric of democracy has been under threat, but yet it survives.
Reading these massive biographies always compels me to write about them. They take me months to finish so they sit with me like a phase in my life where some extraordinary individual’s life shapes my thoughts throughout that time.
Like Da Vinci, we find another genius who claims curiosity to be the source of breakthroughs. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.”
There’s the key - be curious! Something perhaps another type of genius, Mr. Rogers, also championed -