The Other Einstein

This book evoked strong emotional response from me that I have to put it down from time to time. I have to keep reminding myself that most of it is fiction or as the author puts it: ” Whenever possible, in the overarching arc of the story—the dates, the places, the people—I attempted to stay as close to the facts as possible, taking necessary liberties for fictional purposes.

The book started with a hopeful and romantic take on Mileva’s days as a student in the university. It painted a world where social norms are being broken, particularly on women’s right for university education.

And for once, she was not alone in the journey as she met new female friends pursuing higher education.

“Friends did matter. Friends like these anyway, ones who were fiercely intelligent and similarly ambitious, who suffered through the same sort of ridicule and condemnation and survived, smiling. These friends didn’t take away my resolve to succeed as I’d feared. They made me stronger.”

They were not solely focused on studying as they also devoted some of their time playing music and exploring the mountains. It was a sisterhood that was meant to last… well it looked like one until Albert came along.

Mileva did try to take control of her emotions and hold on to her dreams even to the point of taking a semester off Zurich university. But, how she felt for Albert was different as this quote puts it:

“Izgoobio sam sye. These were the only words I could think of to describe how I felt at that moment. Roughly translated from the Serbian, they meant lost. Lost as in directions, lost from myself, lost to him.”

It was interesting to read how the relationship developed from acquaintances to intellectual equals then suddenly having Mileva as a shadow or almost like a house maid just tending to the needs of Albert and their sons.

I questioned most of her choices but I have to defer that they are all difficult ones. She was trying to hold on to a family even how dysfunctional her relationship is with Albert for her sons more than anyone else. It had to take a reunion with her close friend Helene and a meet-up with Madam Curie for her to recover some of self love and pride and walk away from the marriage. As Madam Curie pointed it:

“Remember my words, Mileva, when you withdraw into the deadening cycle of home. You and I are not so different except in the choices we’ve made. And remind yourself that a new choice is always possible.”

I am glad that in the end, she made a choice that restores a bit of dignity and love in herself. But as I tweeted after reading the book, they may have separated in the end but for me it is too late for all the scientific ambitions she had when she pursued her degree in Zurich.

As the author puts it:

“Her story was, in many ways, the story of many intelligent, educated women whose own aspirations were marginalized in favor of their spouses.”

A key element of the story that is subject of much debate is the extent of Mileva’s contribution to the papers published by Einstein that led him to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

After consulting google, I am still on the fence with this issue and no one can really say with 100% certainty the extent of participation Mileva had played in the authorship of the papers. On one hand, the articles painted an intelligent woman capable of handling herself on scientific discussions with other male students. Then, in some, it mentioned how she gave up her scientific dreams after marrying Albert.

Whatever it is, I agree that “the purpose of The Other Einstein is not to diminish Albert Einstein’s contribution to humanity and science but to share the humanity behind his scientific contributions. The Other Einstein aims to tell the story of a brilliant woman whose light has been lost in Albert’s enormous shadow—that of Mileva Marić.”

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Five Weeks (or seven days mentally) in a Balloon

The latest book I finished is Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon or Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three Englishmen.  It is the first book in the Jules Verne Collection I bought from the Kindle store.

This was a tough read for me.  I almost stopped reading at the start given the scientific (e.g., how the balloon functions) and historical (e.g., previous expeditions) references in the first few chapters.  In addition, difficult words abound in this edition; for some words, it was even the first time I encountered them  (NOTE: Thankfully, I am reading via Kindle which has a built-in dictionary/word look-up).

But, I was after an “adventure” and this kept me going to push and read on.

At the end of the book, I have to say I did get my aeronaut adventure crossing Africa.  A lot of trials were experienced by Dr. Samuel Ferguson, Joseph “Joe” Wilson and Richard “Dick” Kennedy throughout their five-week journey – dehydration, lack of wind, bandits and condors, etc.  It was not a smooth five weeks, especially in the last few stretches of the trip.  I do not fancy this kind of trip, but it was an experience and exercise for the imagination.  As they put it:

these trips across the desert are far more perilous than those across the ocean.  The desert has all the dangers of the sea, including the risk of being swallowed up, and added thereto are unendurable fatigues and deprivations.

Joe stood out for me in this trip, even with his short episode of greed.

However, nowadays, there are probably better and more accurate description of the wonders of African continent, especially its human population.  I have not been there but the consistent description of them as gullible, savages and cannibals, among others, I felt was a bit over the top.

Glad I was able to finish this one.  Now I need a lighter read.