Field of Science

Einstein and his promise

A few years ago I read John by Cynthia Lennon (2006), and it was quite an eye-opener for me. John and Cynthia were very happy together until two things happened much at the same time: LSD and Yoko Ono. Both changed John in major ways. From that point on, Cynthia was unable to connect to John, and they went their separate ways. For all the good things that happened as a consequence of that, including Sean, the music, the love, there is also a grim side to the story. John was never much of a father to Julian, who now was really pushed aside. On top of that, Cynthia had a very rough time financially, which stems from the fact that John contributed basically nothing to her and Julian.

And that I find disgraceful. John, I love your music, your lyrics, and your message. I love your fun-loving personality, your intelligence, and your depth. But I hate the way you treated your first wife and your first son. As much as I can weep at your love songs, I decry your choice to estrange them.

While my own two boys were busy in Borders reading about dinosaurs and Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?, I picked up a children's biographical novel about Einstein. I learned some details about his life that had escaped me when I studied physics (it wasn't actually part of the curriculum).

In 1919, Einstein divorced from his first wife, Mileva, and quickly married his cousin, Elsa. Einstein wasn't financially well off in those days, and the divorce didn't make things better for Mileva. He did still support her and their two sons, but time were nonetheless rough on them. Having been nominated for the Nobel-prize three of four times at that point, Einstein promised Mileva that he would give her all the money that came with the prize when he should get it.

And here my heart skipped a beat, or however the idiom goes. I immediately drew the parallel to John Lennon. Both are persons that I look up to in terms of their work, and it is perhaps my weakness that I couple that with their personality (though I suspect that is a very common occurrence in many people, no?). So reading thus far I feared that Einstein wouldn't come through for his ex, just like Lennon (and just like Stephen Hawking, by the way, who got rich on A Brief History of Time, divorced his wife and married his nurse, and left his ex and children with next to no money).

Einstein was indeed awarded the 1921 Nobel prize in physics, neither for the special nor the general theory of relativity, but for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. Einstein collected the prize money in 1922, and then what did he do? He gave it all to Mileva as promised.

For that I thank you, Einstein. Thank you for that. You really made my day, more than 54 years later.

Update minutes after posting:

Well, wouldn't you know it. Look what it says on Wikipedia's page about Einstein:
It was long reported that Einstein gave the Nobel prize money directly to his first wife, Mileva Marić, in compliance with their 1919 divorce settlement. However, personal correspondence made public in 2006[121] shows that he invested much of it in the United States, and saw much of it wiped out in the Great Depression.

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