ALBERT Einstein spent the last lap of his life in the United States.
The country provided him a safe haven where he could continue his research on his pet “Grand Unified Theory”.
According to Walter Isaacson in his book Einstein – His Life and Universe, the Nobel Laureate particularly liked the fact that America, despite its inequalities of wealth and racial injustices, was more of a meritocracy than Europe.
“What makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people,” Einstein marvelled. “No one humbles himself before another person or class.”
On the domestic front, Einstein had also made some interesting and rather uncomplimentary observations.
According to Alice Calaprice and Trevor Lipscombe in their book Einstein – A Biography, “Einstein characterised American men as the lapdogs of their wives and wives as extravagant spenders of their husband’s money.”
Such remarks, of course, drew flak from fellow Americans. He tried to explain and even rebut his statement.
Later he did damage control by coming up with something which was pleasing to the American ears.
He commended the Americans on their warmth and friendliness, according to Calaprice and Lipscombe.
He also expressed admiration for the rapport between students and teachers in American schools and universities.
This is something that was not pervasive in Europe.
Einstein reckoned that American patriotism was not so much nationalistic as an inner pride of being citizens of a great country.
In the US, Einstein did not see his role as a spent force and an armchair scientist.
He played active roles in writing to President Franklin Roosevelt about the attempt by Germany to build atomic bombs.
His fellow immigrant physicists felt that he was the suitable person to pen the letter and hopefully got Roosevelt’s attention.
The Manhattan Project (a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War 2) was the result of his famous letter and the rest as they say is history.
Later, President Roosevelt invited him to the White House. The management of the Institute for Advanced Studies withheld the letter.
When Einstein came to know about it, he was angry. He did not want the Institute to run his life.
He received a subsequent letter from the White House and he happily accepted the invitation.
Many women were attracted to his intellectual prowess and charm. They availed themselves to him and not others, according to his biographers.
He preferred those with beauty and brains. His second wife Elsa did not display any violent reactions or jealousies about her husband’s affairs and dalliances.
She resigned herself to these short-term affairs.
She was secure enough to know that at the end of the day, Einstein would still come back to her.
Einstein did just that.
Dr Koh Aik Khoon is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics Malaysia. After he began writing for a local daily since 1988, he never looked back. His topics are mainly on Science and Higher Education. He has humanised top scientists like Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Paul Dirac, Stephen Hawking, among others, in his pieces. Some of his articles have been compiled into a book entitled ‘Musing from the Ivory Tower’.