Einstein’s Love Life Gets Messy in Nat Geo’s ‘Genius’

May 2, 2017

By Hanneke Weitering

Albert Einstein may have been a genius in the sciences, but when it came to women, he couldn’t have been more clueless.

In the second episode of “Genius” – which airs tonight (May 2) at 9 p.m. ET on the National Geographic Channel – watch young Einstein make the first of many mistakes that would characterize his messy love life.

Nat Geo’s 10-part global event series shines a light on the more tumultuous side of Einstein’s personal life. Last week’s series premiere dove right in to the chaos with violent scenes of Nazi Germany and a taste of Einstein’s lifelong debauchery.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

57 comments on “Einstein’s Love Life Gets Messy in Nat Geo’s ‘Genius’

  • Albert Einstein may have been a genius in the sciences…

    Well, as I know that is still dubious when Mileva Marić is concerned. And I have only two words about this person and his relationship with Mileva Marić – human scum! The way he treated her and their children is unbelievable! He reminds me of another “genius” scumbags like Picassso and Duchamp.

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  • Why would scientific ‘genius’ have anything to do with being able to successfully commit to a monogamous relationship? I’m very successful at the latter but not the former, whereas with Einstein it was the other way round. I’m not in the least bit disappointed that he gets all the plaudits because being faithful is common place but only one person figured out general relativity.

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  • From article above:

    Einstein’s lifelong debauchery.

    Well this will be interesting. Ask ten people what a life long debauchery would look like and we’ll get ten different answers.

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  • (Inside joke)


    Here’s another book for you. It won the Darling of the Feminists Award! (2016) Incredible, considering the competition.

    Mileva The Forgotten Genius Who Was Smarter Than Einstein (Bantam Books, Winner of the DOTF award)

    Mozart’s More Talented Sister came in second.

    Darwin’s Better Half came in third.

    Shakespeare was the Countess of Oxford came in fourth.

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  • Dan

    When I stood in front of the statue David in Florence I definitely was not bothered by Michelangelo’s personal relationships. Artists get away with a fair amount of bad behavior especially when they turn out one masterpiece after another, right?! Why shouldn’t our best scientists enjoy the same freedom?

    I’ve just finished episode two of Genius. No sign of debauchery yet. He started off the first episode saying something about monogamy being unnatural and a tool of religion. I think he had it right. But in those days how could he be free to pursue relationships in such a constrained, puritanical social paradigm? Trying to force this guy with this mind into a narrow little behavior box is not going to end well. Suffering all around.

    While watching the show I couldn’t help but think of Turing and all of his suffering over social conventions and all the time doing the most amazing work. Right now I’m disgusted with the fundamentalists gaining ground here and gleefully forcing their puritanism on everyone from the highest positions in the government. All they do is make people miserable. They’re a plague on humanity.

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  • When I stood in front of the statue David in Florence I definitely was not bothered by Michelangelo’s personal relationships. Artists get away with a fair amount of bad behavior especially when they turn out one masterpiece after another, right?! Why shouldn’t our best scientists enjoy the same freedom?

    This comment is as witty as it is true. I remember standing in front of that statue too, in the 90s. I was struck by the veins! Amazing! The veins in the arms. Not trying to be funny; just can’t get over those veins. No other statue I know of has that – but I could be wrong.

    I do remember thinking about his personal relationships in the Sistine Chapel, however. I had to leave. (Kidding.) I wasn’t bowled over by that chapel, frankly; but I guess it was quite a feat.

    I love all your comments – or most of them. 🙂

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  • In my opinion good persons are always good. They do not have one face for public and another for family. Righteous persons are always that way, they don’t have two faces. They are complete and adult individuals which have no reason to hide behind faces. In every situations, with everyone they are the same – they give their best and just conduct to everyone. This “geniuses” are only “geniuses” because somebody has decided to call them that way considering a facade they saw. They saw their “public face” , not personality as whole. I presume wife abusers are also good people from our neighborhood. I think that is wrong to justify or to look at two faced people as fine persons just someone has given them epithet of genius. Well usually, they get this epithet from the persons or institutions who can make money of them.

    Einstein was unbelievably cruel to his first wife and their children. It would be nice to see what was his conduct with other close persons. After they found relativity he abandoned her like a wet shoe. One can not tell that he has discovered anything so genious after that, he even got wrong phenomenon of entanglement. He thought since it didn’t fit in relativity that it is ludicrous to be real.

    Michelangelo was a horribly jelaous person and full of bitterness, never shared his knowledge and didn’t have friends. He was particulary envy of Leonardo. His sick envy showed itself when painting ceiling of the Sistine chapel…he hired the assistants who stayed there short enough so that none of them could take the right for work on these frescoes. He accused man who had made a scaffolding for him that he wants to kill him, and he also suspected any assistant that they wanted to kill him, even those he had personally picked up and brought from Florence. On all his work, he was working hiding it. He was sickly obsessed that everyone wants to steal his work.

    Pitty that wider public have opinion on such people based only on their epithet of “genius” and not their true characteristics which I consider more important because they are indicators of level of integrity, freedom, responsibility, etc., of an human being. Indicators of attitudes; that of care, responsibility, respect, love, etc. are more important for getting the person right, rather than theatre they put for others, in my opinion.

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  • The only problem is societies tendency to want heroes and villains . saints or arch sinners. Reality is grey and a mix of good and bad . So historic figures (and dramatic characters) should be commended for the good they do and criticised for any harm . Not given a binary label good/bad.

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  • Dan

    The detail on David is remarkable but when I walked into that space where the statue lives, I was struck dumb by the size of the piece and the display of masculine power that stopped me in my tracks. I had written plenty of paragraphs about this statue in art classes for years before seeing it but when in the presence of the masterpiece I knew in a second that I had never done it justice. It had become a cliche in my mind but never again.

    Michelangelo is a sculptor, not a painter. He paints like a sculptor. His human forms look like they’re carved out of marble, not warm, soft flesh. Check the work of Raphael, his contemporary (and professional rival) and you’ll see the difference. (I’m sure you already know this). The Sistine commission should have gone to Rafael or at least someone else who was an accomplished, skilled fresco painter. In M’s defense, he reportedly wanted to work on the sculpture of the Pope’s tomb but was refused that commission and was assigned to the Sistine ceiling, a project for which he was ill suited.

    Something I love to do is to bring some of my art dummy friends and family through art museums and engage them in the appreciation of the pieces therein. I always ask them to do some homework on the masterpieces and I’m happy to supply them with the reading material but the onsite interactive experience is great entertainment. Of course we have to consider the well known crowd pleasers but I ask them to consider the pieces that are off the beaten track because sometimes the crowd pleasers can be overrated and some wonderful pieces shoved into the shadows. (The same holds true for science).

    In art, as in science, the backstory that surrounds our best art masterpieces and our most astounding science discoveries is what grabs my mind and I don’t think that we can fully appreciate the accomplishment without knowing about the struggles that went on all around that. This is how I want art and science to be taught. We need to teach art and science in a technical way but for people outside of those fields, I hate to see them turned off with boring uninspired instruction. I want to engage those outsiders with real life messy reality that is always a big part of those pictures.

    So let’s see what Einstein was getting up to in his personal life. Shows like this one bring history and science alive. If Einstein was guilty of callous cruelty as Modesti indicates then let it stand as part of the story of his life and his accomplishments. Scientists behaving badly – no shortage of material there!

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  • Modesti

    I agree with you that the word “genius” has come to be quite aggravating.

    He was sickly obsessed that everyone wants to steal his work

    Try to see this in the context of the situation and the times. Those guys were not just sitting around in their pretty art studios and painting pretty posies, this was a very competitive cutthroat business. In a very much smaller version, I had the same business for years. Decorative art requires some business sense and part of that is self-promotion. For me, while most of my commissions were done in private homes, when I had the opportunity to bid on a commission that would be in a public space, the competition was intense. This does lead to some vicious behavior. The commissions that I had access to are small potatoes when compared to those put forth by the Vatican!

    The Catholic church was an important source of income for all of the artists that it hired. It is inevitable that this would inspire a high level of competition and professional jostling by anyone who was in a position to compete for these commissions. (They control the money and therefore they control the subject matter). As for M’s bitter secrecy, this is necessary to guard his own original ideas and we see this in science too! There is plenty of idea stealing in the art world. Everyone wants due credit (and money) for their ideas and it’s extremely upsetting when after much time spent creating exciting new ways of doing things, it comes to light that someone has ripped off that idea and profited handsomely. Again, this happens all the time in the science world as well.

    Protection and promotion of ideas is a big part of art and science. Our current “public intellectuals” are on media everyday doing this very thing! I expect we’ll see Einstein in full on participation in this behavior in future episodes.

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  • Modesti, you simply sound too dogmatic to me about all of this. Too black and white in a world that is nothing but shades of gray. At least you started out your post with “in my opinion” because it is exactly that. Einstein was “unbelievably cruel” to his first wife and kids? According to the wiki –

    The marriage had been strained since 1912, in the spring of which
    Einstein became reacquainted with his cousin, Elsa. They began a
    regular correspondence. Marić, who had never wanted to go to Berlin,
    became increasingly unhappy in the city. Soon after settling in
    Berlin, Einstein insisted on harsh terms if she were to remain with
    him. In 1914, she took the boys back to Zürich, a separation that was
    to become permanent. Einstein made a legal commitment to send her an
    annual maintenance of 5600 Reichsmarks in quarterly instalments, just
    under half of his salary.[30][31] After the required five years of
    separation, the couple divorced on February 14, 1919.[32]

    They had negotiated a settlement[33] whereby the Nobel Prize money
    that Einstein anticipated he would soon receive was to be placed in
    trust for their two boys. Einstein would receive the prize for his
    work, and she would receive the money. Marić could draw on the
    interest, but had no authority over the capital without Einstein’s
    permission.[34][35] After Einstein married a second time in June 1919,
    he returned to Zurich to talk to Marić about the children’s future.
    During the visit, he took Hans Albert for a sail on Lake Constance and
    Eduard to Arosa for convalescence.[citation needed]

    In 1922, Einstein received news that he had won the Nobel Prize in
    November; he transferred the money to Marić in 1923. The money was
    used to purchase three houses in Zürich.[36] Marić lived in one, a
    five-storey house at Huttenstrasse 62; the other two were investments.
    Georg Busch, who later became professor at the ETH, and family were
    among her tenants.

    So…they separated and then Einstein gave her alimony that amounted to nearly half his salary. Then they divorced and his Nobel Prize money went to her. She purchased three houses with this. Sorry, but I do not see anything that points to his being “unbelievably cruel”. This is simply hyperbole. You want to read about a great scientist who really was an ass? Familiarize yourself with Isaac Newton. And as Laurie pointed out, the UK was actually unbelievably cruel to Turing. Human beings are flawed. Even smart ones. Perhaps especially smart ones. I’m sorry but I see no accuracy in an empty statement such as “good persons are always good”. How could one even scrutinize such a statement?

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  • Aspies are thoughtless buggers. It comes with the low empathy and the highly systemising brain.

    Not an excuse, just a fact. Their heads are often elsewhere doing their self-calming, stimming thing.

    But it doesn’t mean they can’t have moments of great compassionate insight. Its sustaining daily care that’s the bitch.

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  • I concur with Phil as an Aspie myself and teaching many aspies on a daily basis as an ICT teacher. Actually you find when they are together as a group they are often helpful kind and charming. Many of their issues stem from when they are taken outside of their group and forced to contend with social cues they just do not see and in responding to signals that are not literal enough. This tends to result in them getting into trouble in social situations.


    The reason he was considered genius is usually because they discovered or could do something no-one else could at the time. Complaining that Einstein didn’t get everything right is a bit much, he was not a god. He was just a very, very clever man who could see things in a very different way to most. Genius is a comparative term. If Einstein’s work was so simple then anyone could have come up with it, fact is many smart people even after he had did not believe it. He does not have to be right all the time to qualify in my books. As for his affairs, it may be the Aspy in me talking but to me it’s just irrelevant.

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  • I don’t think we should distinguish between the artist and the man; they are virtually one and the same thing. Wagner (whose music I don’t personally like; his operas all go downhill after the overtures) was a son-of-a-bitch, as was Hemingway, supposedly; but we judge them, ultimately, by what they created and gave to the world, which is a testament, the ultimate testament, to their humanity. To say that Beethoven was a prick (which he wasn’t), was mean to so-and-so, and that that somehow makes him less of a great composer, is a waste of time. James Joyce – and I read his biography – was not what you would call a nice man. Okay….

    Who cares about the countless little indignities that people, ordinary people, may have had to suffer in their dealings with such figures in their own lives? Conversely, if Beethoven or Mozart or Shakespeare helped an old lady cross the street – and that’s fine; I’m happy for the old lady – what does that matter either? That’s not what counts. The old lady cared and maybe Mozart felt good about that; but why should we? Those things are are soon forgotten. Who needs a dubious moral history of the author of The Divine Comedy or of King Lear or the composer of the Hammerklavier Sonata? Their works are a testament to their degree of humanity, as I said. Why cheapen the experience of listening to a Mozart quartet by worrying about what the guy may have done on such and such a day to so and so?

    Now if someone is discovered to have been a fraud or a really nefarious person then that could affect one’s enjoyment of their works, and it probably should in some cases. There was an Italian novelist named Silone (Bread and Wine) who had been a kind of folk hero to the Italian left. As it turns out he had been a police spy for Stalin. This was discovered not long ago. (I remember my own father, a great Italian scholar, was rather stunned, as that novel had been quite important to him.) (My father was American but it sounds funny to say American Italian scholar.) Now how many decent people can hope to be inspired by his novel now? Yet the novels is still the same novel. But, this revelation would cause some to read it differently and maybe see things that one hadn’t seen before – or not…. If a composer had been hired by Hitler to compose a given work would that change the work itself? I for one wouldn’t like it as much. But these examples are a bit extreme, and I am getting carried away….

    Here’s another question: who would want to read the writings of a plagiarist, no matter how good the writing is? I would. Would you?

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  • Laurie

    Just read your comments. I agree with everything you said – about art and science and teaching them and everything else.

    One thought: you know more about this, but maybe Raphael, had he been hired for the chapel, would not have done as good a job; maybe Michelangelo’s relative lack of skill as a painter worked to his advantage somehow. That can happen. But one can never know. He did pretty good, I think, created something truly enduring and unique; it has a certain classic look to it, a certain economy, you know? Maybe all that extraordinary detail in the sculptures would have added nothing to the ceiling and walls of the chapel.

    Now don’t anyone tell me that Dickens was not a nice man – in addition to being a very great novelist!

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  • That’s fine – but try to read Our Mutual Friend or Dombey and Son, if you haven’t already. They’re all good – except The Old Curiosity Shop.— But put those two on your list…. pleeeease?

    Uh-oh! Late for Maddow!

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  • He was just a very, very clever man who could see things in a very different way to most.

    I agree strongly with the second part of this statement, RM, but not the first. “Clever”?

    “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

    “The mind of genius is among other minds what the carbuncle is among precious stones: it sends forth light of its own, while the others reflect only that which they have received. The relation of the genius to the ordinary mind may also be described as that of an idio-electrical* body to one which merely is a conductor of electricity.”

    “The mere man of learning, who spends his life in teaching what he has learned, is not strictly to be called a man of genius; just as idio-electrical bodies are not conductors. […] A man of learning is a man who has learned a great deal; a man of genius, one from whom we learn something which the genius has learned from nobody.”

    Arthur Schopenhauer

    “Talent is hereditary; it may be the common possession of a whole family (eg, the Bach family); genius is not transmitted; it is never diffused, but is strictly individual.”

    Otto Weininger

    *Phil or Alan or anyone, what exactly is an idio-electrical body? I get the gist of the statement, but that’s an outdated term, isn’t it? I tried googling it. No luck.

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  • Steven007 #12

    You want to read about a great scientist who really was an ass? Familiarize yourself with Isaac Newton.

    Steven, I know you have a very good sense of humor, but can’t decide if that one was a joke. If it is, it’s funny; if not I’m perplexed.

    Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! UNFORTUNATELY, HE WAS AN ASS. He was born on 25 December 1642, and died on 20 March 1726/7.—Translation from G.L. Smyth, The Monuments and Genii of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and of Westminster Abbey (1826), ii, 703–4.

    Alexander Pope wrote this epitaph:

    Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
    God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

    In 1693 he suffered a nervous breakdown (whatever that is) and sent some hostile letters. Is that what you’re referring to?

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  • Dan #20


    The explanation might help with your other questions on ‘self’ and the various explanations, one of which Modesti gave on thermodynamics, and how a body can create its own energy as a consequence. It helped me anyway!

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  • Steven007 #12

    From the book of Walter Isaacson (Einstein: His Life and Universe) a list of conditions he imposed to his wife after the birth of son Eduard:

    you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
    you will stop talking to me if I request it;
    you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.
    that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
    that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
    that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

    There’s no way to read this without shuddering.

    After Mileva remained pregnant with their first child Elisabeth she got dismissed from her job, than she went to Novi Sad to give birth and he never went to see her. Albert never came to see her. An 11-month-old baby Mileva had temporarily left with her parents because Einstein planned to leave the baby for adoption, but baby got ill and died. Mileva and Albert did not stop responding in letters while she was in Novi Sad, and he would finish each letter with the mathematical task he sought from her.

    In the begining Albert gave her money to the teaspoon, and Mileva supported the child by holding math and piano classes. On the edge of poverty she managed somehow to feed children, because he was uniterested in that since he was having relationships with other women. When she was irritated with him not helping around children she asked him to return the original of the famous scientific articles, and when she threathen to reveal who their real author was, than he agreed to help financialy. The agreement on the prize money you are talking about, Mileva managed to obtained years before, because he constantly refused to help financialy with the children (she invested some in real estate for security, rather than keeping money in bank and sold houses when time came).

    So yes, in my opinion he was a shit of a person.

    Human beings are flawed. Even smart ones. Perhaps especially smart
    ones. I’m sorry but I see no accuracy in an empty statement such as
    “good persons are always good”. How could one even scrutinize such a

    I know that human beings are flawed. I do not know what is in that documentary about Albert, but I hope it will show his flaws also, and not a picture of some “golden boy” or that is constantly offered to media (because there is some image that has to be preserved perhaps). I do not understand why especially smart ones are more flawed. When I wrote that good persons are always good I ment on behaviour. A correct and civilized person is in any situation correct and civilized. I do not see why would Einstein be alowed to be presented only as some positive person when there is other side to that “positive” person (just because of his so acalled “genius”?).

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  • Public persons and their work reflect on us. Wait, until I forget, this is only my opinion, hahaha. Their image or the way they are presented to public have an effect on how we understand things that those persons presents. If Hitchens didn’t presented other side of Mother Theresa, the image she had in public would have remain of that of some “saint”, but we know more of her personality and see things differently. Dawkins is also trying to show other side of some “saints” I supose. If image of Einstein or some other “geniuses” are presented only with one side of the story than I can suspect that image as much I can suspect Trump and his propaganda machine. 😉

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  • Dan #17

    Now don’t anyone tell me that Dickens was not a nice man – in addition
    to being a very great novelist!


    There’s a magnificent biography of him by Claire Tomalin (Charles Dickens: A Life) which is utterly unputdownable, one of the best biogs I’ve ever read – every bit as thrilling and absorbing as one of his novels (which I also enjoy, by the way, though his portrayal of women would be a whole different conversation). And it paints the picture of a complex man, but the streaks of narcissism and cruelty are unmistakeable. His treatment of his wife, especially, was utterly heartless. Marriages fail and separations happen, but he ostracised her, publicly ridiculed and libelled her, left her no shred of dignity, discouraged their children from visiting her (though one or two of the older ones still did when they safely could), leaving her desperately isolated. And for no reason beyond that he’d grown tired of her and his eye had moved on to younger, slimmer women. On her deathbed she gave her daughter Katey a bundle of the love letters he had written her in happier days, begging her to “Give these to the British Museum – that the world may know he loved me once”. Heartbreaking stuff.

    This short article is to the point – including a direct quote at the end that goes to the heart of genius and virtue (or even kindness) being entirely different things. Virtue is no part of the definition of a genius, just as genius is no part of the definition of virtue. Life is messy, people are messy, and if only the perfectly pure and virtuous are to have their achievements celebrated, it’s a poor look-out for all of us. Neither Einstein nor Dickens require our approval to make them a genius.


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  • Modesti

    I too am weary of false ‘history’ but think we cannot ever understand the person through history books.

    I wonder what would have been written about me? I didn’t see my daughter for seven years because I neither had the mental or financial abilities to do so. I made a conscious decision to leave her in her mothers hands because I knew her mother and aunt would have made life hell for all of us if I was around. I let her grow with one mind hoping she would eventually want to find out the truth. She did and we all understand each other now and get on great. At the time (and that is an important factor) young women got council flats if they were an single parent……………

    I don’t like your account of Einstein’s married life. Too many possibilities.

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  • Modesti,

    I have no reason to doubt what you are reporting of Einstein. I don’t need to paint him as anything but what he was, a person. But none of his relationship issues has any bearing on his abilities as a physicist. A good quote I heard today “sports stars can hit a goal very few people can hit, geniuses hit goals others cannot see”. I can admire his mind as I admire Newtons and still see that they were deeply flawed people in other areas. Newton was a far more unpleasant character.

    To be honest I understand your feeling about Albert so I’m probably just bridling at the either good or bad approach you seem to be portraying. I think we are all mixtures of flaws and few of us can match up to everyones expectations. So we’re probably only a few millimeters apart in reality. If Trump ever pulls off something as remarkable as the theory of relativity I’ll admire him also. However that seems unlikely. Unfortunately we only get the arse and none of the genius.

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  • LaurieB #11 Try to see this in the context of the situation and the
    times. Protection and promotion of ideas is a big part of art and
    science. Our current “public intellectuals” are on media everyday
    doing this very thing!

    But I do see Michelangelo in this context. Except I am not sure if wider audience is aware of contexts. 😉 As you say promotion of ideas…. . I supose marketing has done some job presenting Einstein as a nice guy because of money and of that how his image reflects on achievements of science in general.
    The general image of him is that he is a positive person, maybe because, image of positive achivements in science, people identified with his personal caracteristics, and so he became positive in all. His flaws were not sdvertised. I would like to know all there is to know about person so I can get correct picture of that person. I do not see Michelangelo work less good, just I understand him and his envy and his paranoid behavior. And even if I understand circumstances in wich he lived, I don’t like him. 🙂 Probably like this is with many people… they have their personal opinions on someone based on promotion or advertisement that exist on them. I do not like Einstain because of his other (personal) life that is not advertised so much, but gives me an idea of a person in whole. 🙂

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  • Wow Dan, I just read your quote about talent, this is the second time I’ve heard that quote today – I’m going to have to find out if my mate is a member on this site. If I was religious I’d be seeing something in this.

    Anyway “Clever”. I not wedded to the term, some people are able to use information or process it in such a way that many cannot grasp.

    I note the addictions almost all my students have to their phones, the amount of likes, the status. I see it as an extension of our social primate species attempting to try to fit in, gain favor, dominate and those things. I think Newton would have had no interest in any of that – the phone itself yes, facebook and instagram no. Now Newton never for all we know even had a sexual partner, he certainly didn’t breed so from an evolutionary point of view he was a genetic dead end. Still his work as socially awkward as he was (and a bit of a arrogant prick from all accounts) the world is an infinitely better place for having had him for a few decades. Because his brain fell outside of the the way of looking at the world that dominates most of our lives he was free to think in other ways, some of it very useful.

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  • Modesti –

    There’s no way to read this without shuddering.

    Modesti, I didn’t shudder. Was he an arsehole? Perhaps. But as bad as it was to our modern ears do you really think that was all that unusual back then with a man of renown? And did he not provide for her and his children? Also, as with most bio’s written long after the fact, clearly some creative liberties were taken to fill in the obvious unknown gaps. First hand accounts are long gone when research is undertaken and attempts to create dialogue out of thin air is just that.

    At any rate I’m not interested in parsing all of your points; I just reacted to something I saw that was a trigger for me. In my opinion we should save “unbelievably cruel” and “human scum” (really? Einstein?) for Stalin; Hitler; Mussolini; Duvalier; Amin; the list, unfortunately, goes on. Einstein? He simply does not qualify.

    For Dan:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/rosspomeroy/2013/11/04/why-was-isaac-newton-such-a-j erk/


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  • Dickens.

    The invisible Woman directed by Ralph Fiennes was a good enough account of Dickens cowardly and dishonest behaviours with regard to his wife and mistress. Certainly the dishonesty of the times in moral matters, dis-allowing free expression of one’s heart (divorce? an unwed lover? the shame!), added to the train-wreck of his love life.

    Claire Tomalin is my all time favourite biographer. Her Pepys biography was wonderful and dealing with a mightily energetic man fascinated by most things in his life, especially himself, also compromised by philandering.


    Lisa Jardine, my all time favourite biographer also, in her biography of Robert Hooke, shows Newton for the nouveaux Patrician, paranoid, aspie he probably was. No love life there (he was possibly homosexual) but a thoroughgoing condescending shit.

    He first thought planets had circular motion. Robert Hooke believed elliptical orbits more likely but hadn’t the maths to prove it. At the Royal Society Newton at its head rather acted as a fine featured Frankenstein to his coarse featured assistant Igor played by Hooke. Hooke was indeed short, seemingly with a crooked back. It was alleged (I think by John Gribbin) that Newton’s “[seeing further by]…standing on the back of giants” was a joke made at Hooke’s expense. Notably though Hooke’s achievements tranformed seventeenth century life, with his Micrographia, effectively inventing coach travel and opening up the country, designing half of post fire London and his brilliant experiments, no portraits of him survive. Newton very probably saw those at the RS were taken down and lost.

    Yet Hooke too was a shit. His housekeeper was his niece and “took care of his needs”. Hmm? Turner’s treatment of his housekeeper was heartless.

    Boswell, as his London diaries show, was a shit towards women.

    I think a pattern is emerging.

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  • Yes, but what about Galileo the long suffering secular saint that he is? I have an impression of him as a devoted scientist who bore his trials (literally) and tribulations with a sad patience worthy of any martyr to science. I stood in front of his tomb in Florence and even though there’s probably nothing but dust in his box, I thought a big thanks to him. (BTW, across the entryway is the tomb of Michelangelo.)

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  • Steven 007

    I saw that was a trigger for me. In my opinion we should save
    “unbelievably cruel” and “human scum” (really? Einstein?) for Stalin;
    Hitler; Mussolini; Duvalier; Amin; the list, unfortunately, goes on.
    Einstein? He simply does not qualify.

    Yes it was trigger for you as it was trigger for me when I saw picture of this man. We have different opinion on him, that is all. I explain why I think the way I think of him, and believe me I am not trying to convince you or anyone of anything. That is impossible.

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  • Olgun,

    …She did and we all understand each other now and get on great.

    I am glad.

    I don’t like your account of Einstein’s married life.

    That is also all right. As I said, I am not here to convince you (or anyone) to anything, just expressing my opinion on that person. 🙂 We all are different persons here, with different opinions and standards.

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  • Apparently all these guys treated their wives and mistresses and landladies like dirt. So where does one go from there?

    A lot of that is reputation. Mailer the quintessential chauvinist, right? Wrong! I heard his actual wife Norris Church Mailer talk about her late husband at a book signing (her last public appearance) and I read part of her book (the parts about him); she described him as a man who loved women and supported her. Yes he had had his issues, etc. Well she lived with the guy, so she should know. So don’t all jump on the band wagon.

    Dickens: “His treatment of his wife, especially, was utterly heartless.”

    Sounds curiously like Einstein in this regard.

    True or not, I don’t give a shit, and stated my reasons above. We have the books and the works, the achievements. The rest is gossip at best and at worst unfortunate for the poor women who had to live with these difficult men – but I am skeptical, take it with a large grain of salt – and just don’t care, finally.

    Strindberg (“the great misogynist”) too was a brute. That’s what everyone says. But how many people have read his beautiful Dream Play? And everyone apologizes for his wife (his first wife) Siri Von Essen, who even his worst critics admitted was no angel either. His second wife was an anti-semite, and his mother was a coldhearted pietist, strict and austere… A two-way street, perhaps? But again, none of us know these people, ever spoke with them. And their contribution is what matters. A little more gratitude and appreciation and less judgment wouldn’t be bad.

    I am wary of most biographies, prefer autobiographies. On the other hand, my father wrote about other men. They weren’t biographies, were more like studies; but he took some of these figures to task, depicted CLR James, for example, as a man who could be, at times, very difficult, to put it lightly. He got some flack for that, if I recall. That’s all fine, as long as you know what you’re doing and you don’t let that become the focal point, and are not driven by revenge, hate, or envy, or the absolute worst motive of all for a “biographer”: a political agenda!

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  • Cont.

    Boswell, as his London diaries show, was a shit towards women.

    I think a pattern is emerging.

    Yes, men (including Freud and Einstein and Dickens) like to fuck around (if that’s what you mean), are quite often uncontrollable in everything to do with sexual life. And the same applies to women, who can be just as cruel and selfish. (Boswell. I read that crap years ago when I was taking a class in, and about, London, was forced to. What a consummate bore he was.)

    Phil, you get the Darling Of The Feminists Award.

    Congrats! Laurie? Agreed?

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  • Cont.

    The House of Representatives voted today to take health care away from 24 million Americans, end protections for preexisting conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and raise costs for almost all Americans, while handing $600 billion in tax breaks to the super rich and big corporations.

    Too bad the good hearted, profoundly able, and profoundly humane Dickens isn’t around now to satirize, ridicule, and expose these sons-of-bitches.

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  • Dan

    Phil, you get the Darling Of The Feminists Award.
    Congrats! Laurie? Agreed?

    Definitely!!!! Why didn’t I think of that!!

    Dan, didn’t you once mention that Einstein is a distant relation?

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  • Laurie (others)

    Yes. By the way, here’s a letter that Einstein wrote to Freud and Freud’s letter in reply. (These are not so well known!) Tell me if they sound heartless. Ever read Einstein’s essays on society? The man was a great humanitarian. Those instructions to his wife, above somewhere, sound severe; but it also sounds very Germanic, not atypical. No way to verify the authenticity of that anyway (as far as I know); and it’s out of context; sounded like he had had enough. Who knows? And why should he not demand silence, at least while working?

    These arguments that he and others exhibited “cruelty” in their personal lives may conceivably have some merit, but are distorted and misleading. So here’s something to put it in perspective.

    These letters, an open letter from Einstein to Freud about war, and Freud’s reply, are only available as a PDF. (I read them in a museum when I was a kid – forgot where – and will never forget the letters or this image: the letters were framed on a wall side by side. A translation was below it or next to it.) You need to scroll down a bit. The one on top is worth reading too. It is sad and interesting that no progress has been made since these letters were composed.


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  • Dan,

    Much more interesting than the treatment of women by men is the treatment of women by society. Dickens’ loves could have been a part of a sad but more equitable story, the kind we are able to write now. But this was the start of Dickens’ real crime-

    Certainly the dishonesty of the times in moral matters, dis-allowing free expression of one’s heart (divorce? an unwed lover? the shame!), added to the train-wreck of his love life.

    Dickens, in particular areas, wrote dishonestly about moral matters (as society obliged him to do and he, a money making coward, complied). No French writer he. His characters were the smoothest alabaster blanks at the groin. His characters would never tussle with the falling away of love and desire and its resurgence elsewhere. He could live but not think these thoughts.

    Dickens’ disowning of his own “lover” at the actual train crash reduced the man permanently for me. It marked him as no real lover. Moral people trade in their own standing and personal well-being as a price for integrity. Commercial Dickens left undone what his actual job obliged him to do, address society on its failings. His behaviour at the train crash was weak and understandable perhaps, given Victorian society, but why did he not use the tools of his trade to address this societal iniquity subsequently?

    You berate, Boswell, but at least he knew he sometimes was a shit, regretted it and told the world, as you do to leverage better from yourself.

    Moral integrity is more than the occasional (or even frequent) fine sentiment.

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  • Phil

    Well Dickens is not here to reply to such mild and inoffensive accusations: cowardice, greed, general insensitivity, and superficiality. So I will let you have the last word.

    Right, Charles – wherever you are? What does it matter? May I call you Charles? God bless you, sir, and thank you.

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  • Reckless Monkey 30

    Very nice comment about Newton. I enjoyed it. Thanks.

    “Because his brain fell outside of the way of looking at the world that dominates most of our lives he was free to think in other ways, some of it very useful.”


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  • You’re no fun, these days, Dan.

    I was going to go on to trash Gallileo. My broader point that societies and most particularly their conservative forces are the immoral root, for instance in gender iniquity, is what we most have to notice after we realise that individuals (even writers) are no match for it alone. Gallileo’s two illegitimate daughters bundled off to a convent when still children and for life because they were illegitimate seems utterly breathtaking now. How could he?!!!

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  • Well, Galileo perhaps could send them away because the alternatives at that time were probably worse.

    Only the richest could afford to have better or worse morals than the norm.

    Who of the famous in history comes without a retrospective moral rap sheet? Few men, certainly.

    Charles Darwin? Erasmus Darwin (early feminist though may have dallied with a protoge…)? I like these two particularly, because they loved their children to distraction., for me a rung up in the moral stakes because kids asked for none of their lot and deserve misery the least.

    Any others?

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  • Who of the famous in history comes without a retrospective moral rap sheet? Few men, certainly.

    Famous or not, who among us is without a moral rap sheet of at least a few regrettable items? When my kids were old enough to understand this it came as a great relief to me that I could be honest about my own failings. Learning about some disappointing behavior of my grandparents and mulling it over had the effect of letting me see them as three dimensional humans with real world problems, no better and no worse than any other poor slob on the face of this earth. These are all private family matters to most of us but those who are famous must put up with all of this churning through in the public eye.

    As soon as I dropped the facade of authoritarian parenting with my kids then we could renegotiate our relationship as adults on equal ground and could collaborate for the common good. I’ve watched other parents hold onto that authority-punishment model for far too long and they miss out on the opportunity to create an egalitarian relationship with their grown kids.

    It’s not just men who desire sexual variety or who get bored with the years and decades of having sex with the same person. Women suffer from this sad ennui too. But as we all know, the consequences for us can be devastating when we seek some variety outside of the mainstream strict expectations imposed on us and enforced by organized religion. Maybe we’re more careful about hiding this from others. I’m watching Mileva Marić pay a very high price for her relationship with Einstein.

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  • Phil, Laurie

    No “pedestal” coming down for me, as I am un-phased; only irritated. But this biographer (whatever her name is) of yours must have really come down hard on poor Charles to have filled you with such contempt vis-a-vis his dealings with women in his personal life. Not surprised. Those who can’t do teach and those with undue ambition and impotent literary imagination have recourse to writing biographies and reviews; and their work is an act of unconscious revenge based on envy and other resentments in many cases. I looked her up. One after the other, like Simone de Beauvoir, perhaps. A steam roller with finesse. Let’s see what Dickens did wrong. Shakespeare was a shit too, you know, as was everyone (except good old Stendhal). Now we’re on to… To be fair, I haven’t read Ms. Tomalin, but I rarely read biographies; the author has to be very, very fair-minded, appreciative, and informative. I am not interested in what Dickens said or did to someone on this day or that or when he went to the bathroom, etc. I want to know what he thought about his own process and his own works, what he felt when he wrote, what he felt about life and other important, interesting people.

    If you can’t appreciate Dickens it’s not his fault; it’s probably yours.

    As for the French, I’ll take Copperfield over Miss Bovary. She bored my to tears, the adulteress (victim) walking around Paris doing, saying, nothing. Just thinking and feeling remorse, etc. Crap. I barely remember it.

    Mileva? Maybe he hated her guts. What are we going to do about it? What’s wrong with you people?

    The Imaginary Woman is a lousy, well-made (same thing) biopic and that series “Genius” is just a form of TV entertainment, with a wide audience it wants to satisfy.

    And it’s not “sad ennui”, Laurie; it’s lust, okay? It’s desire to get fucked good by someone else and better. Lust and dishonesty. And women (the great and the small) have it just as bad as we do.

    I know plenty of fathers who are good fathers and husbands, beyond reproach – and that’s a good thing indeed; but there’ll all be forgotten, and that fills me with sadness and a bit of horror.

    No fun these days. Give me at least until the mid terms.

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  • Darling,

    “Erasmus Darwin (early feminist though may have dallied with a protoge…)?”

    Phil, I had no idea you regarded such things with such disdain or that respecting women excluded having a bit of fun on the side. That’s part of a firm tradition, isn’t it? Does that really bother you that much? Maybe his wife approved, for all we know, or maybe she was an awful bitch or ugly as sin – or a yo-yo, a prude, that is. Phil the puritan.

    Adultery isn’t morally wrong; what is morally wrong is to display it publicly and in front of one’s spouse with the deliberate intention of hurting them. Most people, I admit, would agree with you that extra-marital affairs are in themselves moral crimes.

    (“If he cheated on me, I’d kill him,” I once heard someone say.)

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  • Dan,

    Thats more like it!

    Adultery isn’t morally wrong

    Exactly so. Nor falling out of love, nor divorce, nor taking a lover. Only hurting people who do not deserve it, and seeing it and without repair, continuing. It is societies and their cultures that are mostly cruel forcing cruelness upon us.

    You object mostly to what you think I am saying.

    But just to say something more clearly for you. As an aspie Einstein may have understood less the hurt he caused compared with a man of such refined and professional sentiment as Dickens.

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  • Phil

    Was Einstein an Aspie? Even if Dickens was hurtful, that doesn’t make him a bad man; it makes him a great author and a great humanitarian who was (perhaps) hurtful. Please read Dombey and Son. It’s actually a feminist novel of sorts, in addition to being a great story. Mr. Dombey is truly a great character. Virtually impenetrable, as impervious to sentiment as a stone – or just about. A few cracks here and there. And no upheavals, like in his silly yet enormously successful Christmas Carol, which is, I think the one book by Dickens I never read (not including The Commercial Traveler). — Just a gradual… Well I don’t want to give it a way. Kind of like the story of Job, but better: more human and more real. Great novel.

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  • Dan,

    Apart from the regret of a de-sexed world, I have said nothing about the quality of Dickens’ writings here.

    This all prompted me to go back and read this first Dickens thread (oh and Reza Aslan).


    What I find difficult is the fact that you cannot accept that different aesthetic needs are in play with each of us. As an aspie I have loved the more complete worlds of Hardy, French and Russian, and modern novelists. They more completely match how it all feels for me.

    I have nevertheless pulled out Dombey and Son (one of several partially read) to look at again.

    Was it with you or my son that I discussed his astonishingly powerful metaphor for fate and death of the steam train rushing headlong and relentless?

    I hope you notice my accusations of immoral behaviour find its root in society first? Dickens nestled in the bosom of the rankest of hypocritical cultures is rather fated for great hypocrisy.

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  • Phil,


    I remember that exchange well, and would say things differently now; I understand that we have different aesthetic needs, as you say. I remember the railways comment too. Good one. Then I mentioned the ceaselessly, implacably flowing river (Chapter 16) as a metaphor, or intimation of, the inevitability of death and you were less impressed with that.

    She told him that it was only the noise of the rolling waves. “Yes, yes,” he said. … Florence asked him what he thought he heard. “I want to know what it says,” he …

    But I insisted then and insist now that he is not a man who painted mere caricatures. (Even if he were, what caricatures!) His characters and relationships are far more psychologically complex than many give him credit for; and many of his characters are frighteningly real. (The obsessed Mr. Headstone, in OMF, to give one example out of many; few depictions of obsessive love and the violence underneath can match it.) And he had great sweeping power. And he was a humorist, made us laugh at ourselves. He struck a deeper level than Tolstoy, in my opinion, and in Henry Miller’s opinion, for what it’s worth.

    Oh yes! We had no differences of opinion regarding Hardy’s greatness; remember?

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