Albert Einstein refused surgery when he was taken to hospital following an aneurysm, saying, “I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” He died peacefully the next day.
The German-born genius is one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. Brilliant and eccentric in equal parts, he may have grasped the special and general theories of relativity but he had a memory like a sieve and was averse to wearing socks.
His life – and death – is replete with fascinating tales…
1) As a young boy in Germany, Einstein didn’t start speaking until he was four. In a reported anecdote while Albert was eating dinner with his parents, he exclaimed, “The soup is too hot.” His parents, surprised to hear him talking, asked why he hadn’t spoken before. His alleged reply was, “Because up to now everything was in order.”
2) His mother, Pauline, encouraged Albert to learn the violin but he disliked his lessons. On hearing Mozart for the first time, however, he fell in love. He later stated that playing his violin trained his mind, and was a “driving force” behind discovering the theory of relativity.
3) Einstein wrote fondly about being shown a small pocket compass by his father while sick in bed, aged five. He was mesmerised by the movement of the needle, and the reason it pointed in a certain direction. And so began his fascination with the invisible forces of the world.
4) Despite excelling in physics and mathematics, Albert failed the entrance examinations for the Swiss Federal Polytechnical School. He was given a place on the condition that he completed his education at a special school in Aarau, Switzerland. While in Switzerland, he met Mileva Maric, his first wife.
5) Before their marriage in 1902, Albert and Mileva had an illegitimate daughter, Lieserl. Little is known about her, she may have died as a baby or been given up for adoption. The couple had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, after they married.
6) As fame beckoned for Albert, his marriage fell apart. In 1914, he wrote a contract for Mileva, laying down conditions if they were to continue living together. Here is his full list of demands:
You will make sure:
- 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.
You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego:
- My sitting at home with you,
- My going out or travelling with you.
You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
- 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.
You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behaviour.
Mileva accepted the conditions – for a short while. She moved out with their sons a few months later.
7) In 1919, the estranged Albert and Mileva divorced. Only a few months later, he married Elsa Loewenthal – his cousin. They were actually related on both sides of his family.
8) Einstein famously worked as a clerk in a patent office. The makers of Toblerone applied for their patent for their chocolate bar from the office where he worked.
9) In his later life – after moving to the United States – a radical change in occupation seemed on the cards for Einstein, a well-known figure in the Zionist movement. Following the death of the first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, in November 1952, Einstein was offered the job. Now 73, he declined.
10) Many people coveted Einstein’s brain while he was alive, but after his death, one man took it too far. The pathologist at his autopsy, Dr Thomas Harvey, stole the great physicist’s brain with the aim to study it. He lost his job for refusing to return it to its rightful place but he kept the brain in a jar for decades. Over the years, he cut it into over 200 pieces and sent many to researchers around the world.