I have been fascinated with Albert Einstein and his work since I was in high school – I’ve read a lot about him over the years. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was when they announced the TV series Genius. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it. Last week my local library featured the ebook The Other Einstein on their homepage and naturally I snapped it up. It’s a fictional retelling of his first marriage and I was definitely intrigued.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever. – Goodreads
This book bothered me – a lot. It’s well written, with a solid narrative through the voice of Mileva, but that’s where the good parts end. Benedict has taken the barest outline of history and created a rather nasty bit of fiction, portraying Mileva as a martyr and Albert as a monster. There is no historical basis for her claims (which she fully acknowledges in the afterward) and states that this is simply an innocent reimagining. But this is far from innocent. The average reader will finish this book and assume that much of it is based on fact. So what’s inaccurate about it? Where to start!?
Benedict centres much of the conflict around the four papers Albert Einstein wrote as a young patent clerk – the papers that made him famous. Benedict posits that Mileva discovered the theories on her own, with Albert just helping to polish them. Then in a fit of cruelty, he published each under his name alone. There is no historical basis for this fiction – letters between Mileva and Albert have survived and while Albert would touch on his latest theories in them, Mileva stuck to more practical topics. The only reference to collaboration between the two occurred during their school years – long before those 4 papers were conceived. Mileva failed her university exit exams twice and never got her degree. Historians agree that she seemed to give up science to raise her family instead, and that Albert likely used her as a sounding board while establishing his theories.
The life of Mileva Marić is fascinating all on it’s own – she overcame disability and societal limits due to her sex in order to study one of the most complicated scientific fields. She suffered depression long before people really understood what that was. She lost a child far too young and raised two others. Her marriage was rocky, with Albert’s indiscretions and his seeming inability to balance scientific pursuit and his relationships. Her life was interesting! I would have loved to have read a narrative that more accurately covered her life.
If you’re looking to explore an accurate account, take a look at Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. It’s excellent. And pass on The Other Einstein.