Albert Einstein was a prolific writer and commentator and eminently quotable. So a collection of his quotes is extensive enough to describe a life. The Expanded Quotable Einstein, compiled and edited by Alice Calaprice, is like a multilayered box of chocolates, tempting to dip into again and again. I picked it up while killing a day trying to clean all the crud out of my computer so it would operate at something swifter than near-death speed. The book was perfect for those long stretches of malware and spyware searches that served to overheat the laptop and not do too much else.
One of the first treats you encounter is a black-and-white photograph of Einstein sitting on a porch in Princeton wearing a huge pair of fluffy slippers. Meant to balance the hair, I suppose. There are portraits of him with his second wife, with Rabindranath Tagore and Charlie Chaplin, at the helm of his sailboat, with family and a pet dog. His violin gets a page as does E=mc² in his own handwriting. But the words are the stars of the volume and he had something to say about almost everything.
On life: “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects.” That one seems to hint at Einstein’s troubled personal relationships—he was not always as benevolent to his family as he appeared to outsiders.
On his habit of playing the violin to unwind in his kitchen in Berlin—a room he credited with excellent acoustics: “First I improvise and, if that doesn’t help, I seek solace in Mozart. But when I am improvising and it appears that something may come of it, I require the clear constructions of Bach in order to follow through.” Einstein once told an interviewer for The Saturday Evening Post that he would be a musician if he were not a physicist. But, included in his remarks about music, are a casual rhyme about not inflicting your playing on your neighbors and a lament to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium that his technique had deteriorated with age.
He had a less than egalitarian view of women, in his own words, believing them to be obsessively concerned with domestic affairs and not much competition for men in matters of science. (Paradoxically, in 1918, Einstein spoke out in favor of mathematician Emmy Noether’s appointment to a university faculty, a position she was denied because of her gender. This was a departure from his usual championing of the superior brains of men.) Some things seem to have escaped his enormous intelligence entirely. His dismissive attitude toward women mirrored his aversion to marriage, which didn’t keep him from trying it twice: “Marriage is the unsuccessful attempt to make something lasting out of an incident.” Even a genius can’t get everything right.
With age, Einstein’s “wisdom” took on its own life. He was quoted and misquoted everywhere, much to his dismay. He refused, as he had his whole life, to romanticize himself and delighted in the pithy comment, humorous or serious.
“I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to,” he remarked to a friend. To his biographer he declared in 1952, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
Curiosity about Einstein the man can be satisfied by a careful read of Einstein, the writer and speaker. From love letters to his first wife to vexation about the puzzles of quantum theory and the frustrating search for a unified field theory that would answer all the questions, Einstein revealed himself in words. The ones collected here are fewer than an infinity, but they will do for a start.
The Expanded Quotable Einstein Alice Calaprice | Princeton University Press 2000