Denis Brian
Denis Brian
Website
Einstein:  A Life
ISBN: 0471193623
Einstein: A Life
Mr. Brian talked about his recent book, Einstein: A Life, published by John Wiley and Sons. It focuses on Einstein's private life, which Brian argues previous biographers have ignored for the most part. He also talked about the more controversial parts of Einstein's life, including his alleged communist leanings.
Search Audible
TRANSCRIPT
Einstein: A Life
Program Air Date: August 4, 1996

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Denis Brian, author of "Einstein: A Life," why did you devote a chapter to Einstein's brain?
DENIS BRIAN, AUTHOR, "EINSTEIN: A LIFE": It was such shocking news when I found out that somebody had got his brain. And it was exactly what he didn't want to happen. He told everyone that he didn't want any physical part of him to remain. He didn't want any memorials made to him. He didn't want his home made into a memorial. So that when I heard somebody had his brain, and they were slicing it up to find out clues to his genius, I thought this is perhaps the worst thing that could have ever happened to this man.
LAMB: Where is his brain?
BRIAN: Several scientists have it. The man who took the brain has most of it. And a Japanese scientist has some, and there's a doctor in Philadelphia has other parts of it. And the conclusion is that it's absolutely ridiculous to search for genius in the brain, and that all they can say about it is it's remarkably healthy for a man his age.
LAMB: Who took the brain originally, and where is most of it now stored?
BRIAN: The man who did the autopsy took most of the brain, and it's in Kansas. It's in bottles, and it's still in a very healthy state and still can be examined.
LAMB: How did he get it originally?
BRIAN: He was doing the autopsy, and he purportedly asked Hans Albert, Einstein's son, if he could have the brain for medical reasons, for research. And he was given permission as long as there was no publicity about it. And immediately there was publicity in The New York Times, saying the brain was available. And the man was at Princeton at the time, and he stored it in his basement. And when he divorced his wife, he left the brain for a time with his wife, who was very angry about it, saying things like, "I wish they'd get this damn thing out of here."
LAMB: Thomas Harvey was his name, of Wichita, Kansas.
BRIAN: That's right.
LAMB: And did you talk to him?
BRIAN: I did several times. He's now working part-time at a plastic factory. He failed his medical exams when he took them again, so he can't act as a doctor. And he says that he may give this brain to the Hebrew University if they ask for it.
LAMB: And you also found that someone has his eyes?
BRIAN: That was even more extraordinary. The man who had been his eye doctor in Princeton somehow appeared at the autopsy, asked permission if he could take the eyes, and was given permission, and has stored them in a bank vault ever since, and he says he's done it for his veneration for Einstein, not for any scientific purposes.
LAMB: And where are they stored, what city?
BRIAN: They are somewhere in New Jersey in a bank vault.
LAMB: Who was Albert Einstein?
BRIAN: He was an extraordinary young man who had a tremendously hard life as a young man. When he finished college, he almost starved because he couldn't get a job. He had antagonized his professors at the Zurich Polytechnic, and he was the only one of his colleagues who didn't get a job directly at that college. And the problem was he didn't know how to handle authority. He treated the professors in the same pleasant, easygoing way that he treated the cleaning women. And the professors in those days in Germany expected to be treated like minor royalty. And they said he knew it all, he wouldn't listen to them. And he missed all the lectures that didn't interest him, such as math, and the math professor said he was "a lazy dog” -- his summing up of Einstein. But to his friends, he was intriguing, dynamic, spontaneous. And to one, a man called Marcel Grossmann, who knew him at college only in these early days, Grossmann went home to his parents and said, "I've met a man who one day is going to be a very great man," which was an incredible prophecy when everybody else was saying, "He's a lazy dog. He's not going to make it."
LAMB: What have you done in your life as a profession?
BRIAN: Let's think now. At 16, World War II broke out. I had just graduated from Bromley Grammar School. Bromley, incidentally, was where H.G. Wells spent his boyhood.
LAMB: In Great Britain.
BRIAN: In Great Britain. And for two years, I worked in Fleet Street as a reporter on the Irish News Service. We were reporting news of Irish people in Britain and Irish people -- what they were doing in Ireland, for British papers. I was really waiting to join the Royal Air Force. You couldn't do that till you were 18. I took a short course at Southampton University to join the Royal Air Force, became a bomber pilot. After the war, I did freelance writing. I wrote some plays. They were done in what you would call repertory companies and off-Broadway, the equivalent. And I emigrated to America in 1957, two years after Einstein had died.
LAMB: And what have you done since you've been in the States?
BRIAN: I started by doing freelance writing. I worked for Scholastic Magazines as an editor. I worked with a literary agency called Writers Literary Agency. And in the early '60s, I started writing. I wrote "The Science of Crime Detection" for Doubleday. I then wrote a novel called "The Love-Minded," which got very good quotes from people like P.G. Wodehouse and Evan Thomas, quite different sort of writers. And always I've been intrigued with biography. When I was 17 in Fleet Street, I wrote an article about Lawrence of Arabia. Now he was, the cliché, "a legend in his own time." And that's what's always appealed to me, to find the truth about the so-called legends in their own time. I wanted to say, what I think scientists and biographers have in common is the search for mysteries, to try to solve mysteries.
LAMB: Where do you live today?
BRIAN: I live in West Palm Beach, Florida.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
BRIAN: About 20 years.
LAMB: Are you an American citizen?
BRIAN: No.
LAMB: Kept your British passport?
BRIAN: Kept my British passport. I have an American wife who helped me tremendously on the book, an American daughter, and an American grandson and an American granddaughter.
LAMB: When was the first time you thought you would be interested in doing a biography on Albert Einstein?
BRIAN: 1972. I telephoned his secretary, Helen Dukas, about something entirely differently, and she began to talk about a séance that Einstein had attended in California in 1931 with his friend Upton Sinclair, who was very interested in psychic phenomena. And at this séance, she was scared out of her wits. She was sitting in an adjoining room where the séance was taking place, and there was suddenly a ring at the door. And she thought it was a spirit appearing. It was actually somebody with a letter. And nothing happened at the séance. And the people organizing it, including Upton Sinclair, gave the usual answer, "There are unfriendly spirits in the circle." And one of the unfriendliest would have been Einstein, who was a complete rationalist, and said, "Even if I saw a ghost, I wouldn't believe it." But strangely enough, he believed that telepathy might be possible.
LAMB: You have a number of pictures in the book, and I want to try to show this small one right here, because Helen Dukas is in that picture. Can you tell us where she is in there?
BRIAN: She's on my left, where your finger's touching.
LAMB: Right there.
BRIAN: She's -- that's right. Next to her is Einstein's stepdaughter, Margot. There's, unmistakably, Einstein, in what we British call bracers. There's his very good friend next to him, Dr. Bucky; Dr. Bucky's wife. And the tallest man behind Margot, is Thomas Bucky, who was also a very close friend, and gave me a great deal of information about Einstein, personal information -- knew him very well.
LAMB: Is Helen Dukas still alive?
BRIAN: No, she died in 1986.
LAMB: What role did she play in Einstein's life?
BRIAN: She became his secretary in 1928. She was scared out of her wits when it was suggested she should be his secretary, because, like me, she knew nothing about physics. But she was persuaded to go and see him, and he was very ill at the time. He was in bed. He'd had a very badly strained heart. And she was taken up by his wife -- and the wife then, his second wife, Elsa, who was also his cousin. And Einstein immediately put her completely at ease with a few soft jokes.
LAMB: What was she like?
BRIAN: Very pleasant, very easy to talk with, but absolutely tough in defending him, a real watchdog. She scared people off -- strangers who tried to see him and badger him. And she devoted her life absolutely to him, as secretary. And after his wife Elsa died in 1936, she was the housekeeper.
LAMB: I think I read in your book that you said that on eight occasions over 11 years, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Why did it take so long for him to get one?
BRIAN: Fascinating. One, the judges didn't understand relativity. It had not been experimentally proved until after World War I, when Eddington did an experiment proving it to be accurate. And also there was a definite anti-Semitic tinge in the people who voted for him. One man was a very close friend of Hermann Goering's, and his being Jewish and very pro-Jewish was, of course -- so it was a mixture of they didn't understand relativity -- and in fact, when they gave him the prize in 1922, it was for the photoelectric effect, another of his discoveries, which today we make use of it in automatic opening doors -- the electric eye, we call it, you know.
LAMB: All right, can you tell us what the theory of relativity is?
BRIAN: You know, there are many aspects to it, and I was afraid you were going to ask me that. I took notes. Was there any part of it -- you read it -- that puzzled you?
LAMB: Well, just what is it?
BRIAN: Well...
LAMB: I mean, E=mc2.
BRIAN: Yeah, well, that's the most dramatic part of it, which means that in everything physical in the world, there is tremendous energy that can be released. Everything can be transformed into energy. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. And the result of that is the atomic bomb when the atom was split and the chain reaction took place. Einstein didn't know it could be done at the time. But the equation proved what was there.

And let me think now. It's also a lot to do with the movement of planets and speed of planets in space. Up till then -- let me think now. Newton and everyone else believed there was an invisible ether that pervaded the entire universe, and that everything in it, all planets, the speed of them, should be judged against that ether. It's as if you imagine the ocean. Under the ocean there are submarines and swimmers and everything, and their movements and speed is judged against the ocean. Einstein said, "Let's forget about the ether," -- and it doesn't exist in fact -- "let's forget about the ether. Everything should be judged relatively to each other, one planet against another. It's all relative."
LAMB: You have a picture in here, and then I'm going to read a joke in a moment that you put in the book from -- here's a picture of Ashley Montagu and Albert Einstein. What year was this taken, and what was their relationship?
BRIAN: That's, I think, in the '30s. And the relationship was very interesting. Ashley Montagu, who was an anthropologist -- he's famous for "The Elephant Man." He wrote "The Elephant Man," which inspired a movie and a play. And he's also -- your women viewers might like to know -- he's famous for a book called "The Natural Superiority of Women." He used to be on TV programs or radio programs, and he was asked questions. And he would telephone Einstein for his advice.

And the joke you may be referring to was when Ashley Montagu was asked the number of hours most people slept at night, and Napoleon apparently was said to have slept very few. And when Einstein was told that, he said, "Well, that's because Napoleon's a big boaster." That was his joke.

But one other thing about the special theory of relativity that's very important is that no two events can be described as simultaneous or happening at the same time except in your own environment. And now the extension of that is that events happening -- stars moving, for example -- they're millions of miles away from us, millions of light years away from us. So if you want to calculate what's happening there, you've got to take into account the space that's traveled in the time it takes.
LAMB: How old was he when this theory was propounded by Albert Einstein?
BRIAN: Twenty-six. Twenty-six. Four or five tremendous theories came out all in the same year, all almost in the same month, when he was 26 years old.
LAMB: What has happened since he was 26 and revealed this theory that would not have happened had he not invented this?
BRIAN: What has happened?
LAMB: In other words, in the world, the bomb, for instance.
BRIAN: Oh, well that's the most dramatic thing that's happened.
LAMB: His formula led to the creation of the atomic bomb?
BRIAN: His formula showed it was possible. But it would only have been possible if the atom could be split, which it wasn't for another -- maybe until -- about 1930, something like that -- till another -- 1940 -- another 25 years.
LAMB: Where was he born?
BRIAN: He was born in a little town called, or city, called Ulm, U-L-M, in southern Germany.
LAMB: How long did he live there?
BRIAN: Just as an infant. Then he moved with his family to Munich. His father was an electrical engineer, and he didn't do very well in Ulm, so he moved to Munich, which was an up-and-coming city.
LAMB: How long did he live there, and where did he go after that?
BRIAN: He lived there till he was 15, when his family all moved to a place near Milan where there was more opportunity for the electrical engineering. Einstein was left in school at 15, hated it -- hated being left by his family, and wasn't doing well at school, wasn't getting on well with the teachers or the students. And he persuaded a doctor to say that he'd have a nervous breakdown if he wasn't allowed to leave and join his family, and...
LAMB: He was faced with, at one point when he went to Switzerland, with military service.
BRIAN: He was faced with military service in Germany, if he had stayed. When he went to Switzerland, which he did to go to college, he was also faced with military service, but the medical exam failed him on the grounds that he had flat feet and varicose veins, both of which his doctor friend, Thomas, denies -- Thomas Bucky denies -- who's seen him in bathing trunks, that he had neither flat feet nor varicose veins.
LAMB: Who said he had it then?
BRIAN: The Swiss medical authorities.
LAMB: Why?
BRIAN: Because he had to have a medical exam to see if he was fit for the Swiss...
LAMB: But, I mean, why did they lie about his condition?
BRIAN: I don't think you'd call it a lie. I think you'd call it ineptitude, or maybe he had weaknesses then, which -- I don't know if flat feet can be cured. Maybe they can.
LAMB: How long was he in Switzerland?
BRIAN: Quite a long time. He took an exam for Zurich Polytechnic and failed it, to his relatives' amazement, because by that time he was considered a potential genius. He was brilliant at mathematics. But he'd taken it a year or so younger than the average age. But he had done so well at mathematics, they said, "If you graduate from high school," -- he'd left a year before high school -- "If you graduate, you can come straight in without retaking the exam."

And he went to a high school in Switzerland where he absolutely had a marvelous time. He fell in love for the first time with his teacher's daughter. He lived in the house with a teacher and the teacher's children. And he did very well. He became a terribly enthusiastic violin player. And then he went from there to Zurich -- went to the Polytechnic for four years, graduated, fell in love again with the woman he married, Mileva Maric, and then they moved to Bern. He lived in Bern for a while.
LAMB: Let me jot back, though. Mileva Maric was pregnant before they got married?
BRIAN: Mileva Maric was pregnant before they got married with a little girl who was born in Serbia. She went home to have the baby born. The whereabouts of this baby now is absolute mystery. She disappeared at the age of three. It's assumed that friends of the Einsteins had her adopted, but the fate of this girl is a complete mystery. Various people have tried to find out; and, in fact, there's a young woman from The New Yorker magazine, I think, now in Serbia trying to find out what happened to her.
LAMB: How...
BRIAN: She may be alive today. She'd be in her nineties.
LAMB: Are there any other Einstein direct descendants living?
BRIAN: Direct descendants, yes. Grandson, Bernard, living in Switzerland, and several grandchildren. Bernard is the son of Einstein's eldest son, Hans Albert. Einstein's youngest son, Eduard, was in a mental asylum for the last years of his life with schizophrenia.
LAMB: Was there an illegitimate child?
BRIAN: The illegitimate child is the first one born. I don't know if they call them illegitimate today, but born before -- and the extraordinary thing is Einstein was looking forward to the birth of this child very much, talking about seeing it and when it came back. But there are all sorts of reasons why it would have been terribly difficult for them to have had the child with them then.
LAMB: OK. Where else did he move to? What was next?
BRIAN: When they moved to Bern, after he almost starved and couldn't get a job, he started a little academy of his own teaching two friends. He made lifelong friends teaching, as a tutor. He and Mileva did a little tutoring. He then did some part-time teaching in schools. And then, through this friend, Marcel Grossmann, who had predicted he'd be a great man one day, he got a job in the patent office in Bern. And what he had to do was look at the patents that people had sent in and their description of the patents and clarify them, simplify them, see if they worked, and recommend whether they should be considered. And it was a great help to him, because it focused him very much on being succinct about describing things and looking immediately for the flaws and that sort of thing.
LAMB: Go over two or three of the next moves he made, just so we can get some sense of what he did.
BRIAN: He went to the patent office, and after about seven years in the patent office in which he was doing fairly well, he was promoted, and they thought very highly of him. He got a chance to be a lecturer in a Bern university. A professor had taken a great interest in him. And he lectured there, and he was a very poor lecturer to start with. And then he got his PhD at the University of Zurich. And from the University of Zurich, where he taught, too, he went to Prague University, and from Prague, he...
LAMB: We have a picture from 1922. Was this a good likeness of what he was -- you point out here that he always buttoned the top button of his coat?
BRIAN: That's right. That's him in Berlin. And it -- really what it's a point of -- he didn't bother to button his coat. He just bothered with the first one. His interest in dress was absolutely nil, and partly what it was, including his long hair, he tried to simplify everything. There's a story that Bucky told me, that Einstein used to shave only with water, and it was very painful. And Bucky gave him some shaving soap at one time -- introduced him to it -- and Einstein used it, said it was marvelous, and then went back to just water again because it was just simpler.
LAMB: How smart was he?
BRIAN: He was absolutely brilliant. I mean, all of the people I spoke with -- before I did this book, because my knowledge of physics was practically none, as a preparation, I read up on physics and I interviewed Nobel Prize-winning physicists. And that made another book of mine called "Genius Talk: Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries." And every one of them said there was really nobody that could match Einstein for brain power, and the only person they would even consider in the same sphere as him was Niels Bohr.
LAMB: And who was Niels Bohr?
BRIAN: Niels Bohr was a Danish scientist who started a school in Copenhagen. And almost all the great scientists -- contemporary scientists -- went there and studied there.
LAMB: Where was he at age 26?
BRIAN: Einstein at age 26?
LAMB: When the theory of relativity was discovered?
BRIAN: He was at the patent office.
LAMB: In Bern.
BRIAN: In Bern, yes.
LAMB: In Switzerland. When did he first come to the United States?
BRIAN: He first came to the United States in 1921. He came with Chaim Weizmann to do a tour to raise funds for a Hebrew university, and they did a lightning tour of all the major cities. And then his next visit to America was in 1931, when he went to California.
LAMB: Where did he go in California?
BRIAN: He went to Los Angeles. He went to the University of California, to Cal Tech. And it was from Cal Tech, where he went a few years running in the '30s, somebody wanted him for what was to be the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, a new organization.
LAMB: When did he go to Princeton?
BRIAN: He went to Princeton in 1933, when Hitler and the Nazis had declared him public enemy number one, and there was a price on his head.
LAMB: Along the way, what citizenship did he hold?
BRIAN: He was born in Germany, so he was naturally a German citizen. He renounced his German citizenship, and for a time was a citizen of no nationality. Then he eventually got Swiss nationality. And eventually, in 1940, he became an American citizen.
LAMB: You have a book on biography.
BRIAN: Yes.
LAMB: And -- let me see. You, I'm sure, remember the title of it. It's "Fair Game: What Biographers Don't Tell You."
BRIAN: I decided that biographers should be put to the same scrutiny as they put their subjects. So I -- as well as a survey of biography through the ages, I interviewed quite a few contemporary biographers, including Bob Woodward, who's quite interesting. And one of the things I got out of him is he told me the secret of how he, in confidence, the secret of how he interviewed Casey, the head of the CIA, when Casey was almost on his deathbed in Washington, and I believed him.
LAMB: Did you print it?
BRIAN: It was in confidence.
LAMB: He told you in confidence?
BRIAN: In the book -- yes, he told me. He won't tell people how he did it. You see, he says it's a secret, so they say, "Well, obviously, like Deep Throat, he's covering up; either it doesn't exist or it's not as he describes it." So I said to him, you know, "Some people have told me, fellow reporters and biographers, they're very disappointed in you because you could confide in them, you could tell them how you did it, and they could then say, 'I believe Bob Woodward,' and that would at least give you more credibility." So he did tell me in confidence, and I believe him, and it's almost like a Conan Doyle story of the dog not barking or whatever. It's very simple.
LAMB: And you never can tell this story?
BRIAN: I don't know about never. I could tell if Bob Woodward tells it or gave me permission to tell it. Rather, as he said, he won't tell who Deep Throat is until Deep Throat dies or gives him permission.
LAMB: Well, why do you think he trusted you not to tell the story?
BRIAN: I think the same reason people trust him, and that was the thrust of my book on biographers. You've got to know about them, their integrity or lack of it, to know if you can trust their biographies. Because one of the people in that book, a contemporary biographer, faked an FBI document to follow his thesis.
LAMB: Who was that?
BRIAN: I'd rather not tell you, but it's in the book.
LAMB: It's in the book?
BRIAN: It's in -- it's in...
LAMB: What year did you publish the book?
BRIAN: Quite recently. I think it's about two or three years ago.
LAMB: And what publisher?
BRIAN: As a matter of fact, I can't remember because it's a very -- Prometheus. Prometheus. Do you know the Prometheus Press?
LAMB: Yes. But this is a Wiley book that you've got here?
BRIAN: This is a Wiley book, yes. They mostly do scientific and business books. But they're branching into trade books very much in the last few years.
LAMB: How long did you work on your biography book?
BRIAN: It's really a lifetime. You mean literally worked on it?
LAMB: Yes, but...
BRIAN: About a year or two years, but this is a 25-year effort, this...
LAMB: The Einstein book?
BRIAN: Yes. Over the years, I wrote a biography of Ernest Hemingway as well, in the meantime. But I started this in '72 with that original phone call to Helen Dukas. And then every library I'd go to, every biography that came out, I'd look in the index to see if there was any mention of Einstein for the new information.
LAMB: Did you change the way you wrote this book based on your discoveries of writing the book about biographers?
BRIAN: Well, another book of mine is called "Murderers and Other Friendly People: The Public and Private Worlds of Interviewers." This again was to try to find out, you know, it's so important, the interviewer in a biography, getting information, to find out the secrets of people like Truman Capote and the man who wrote "Roots" and how they go about it. So, one, it helped me in interviewing technique in a sense. But what I developed over the years in "Einstein," was a tremendous admiration for him. I've never come across, in life or in any book, anyone who went out of his way to help strangers in distress.

And there's a recent account of Raoul Wallenberg -- it was in the US News and World Report. Apparently, you know he rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis -- a Swedish diplomat. Apparently, he was working for the American intelligence and funded by the American intelligence to rescue these Jews, and Einstein in 1948 had written to Stalin, saying, "Would you please release Raoul Wallenberg from prison?" And an assistant of Stalin's wrote back to Einstein, "I've looked for Raoul Wallenberg, and I can't find him anywhere." But he went out of his way so much to help other people.
LAMB: Go back to the art of biography. When you interview someone, what kind of a technique do you use to get information?
BRIAN: One, I think it's very important to know a great deal about the subject so that you can appear to know as much or more than they do about it. And, in fact, when you write a biography like this, you know more about the man than practically anybody in the world, including his wife or his best friends, because you knew it from so many different sources. So that I think when you know so much about a person and you can talk to somebody who also knows them, you can give them information that interests them. And one of the things that Truman Capote said which is in a sense deceitful was to empathize with the subject. He, for example, did an interview with Marlon Brando for The New Yorker, and they were talking about both having alcoholic mothers, or rather Brando was talking about having an alcoholic mother, so Capote would say, `Well, you know, I know exactly how you feel, I had a...' -- and with this sort of empathy, he thought he got much more out of the person than he did.
LAMB: Who was Carl Seelig?
BRIAN: Carl Seelig was a very wealthy Swiss man who was interested in the mentally retarded people very much. He wanted to write a biography of Einstein because he was intrigued with him. And he wrote to Einstein suggesting that he should do it. And he had taken an interest in Einstein's son, who was in the mental asylum, and befriended him. And on account of that -- and rather an amusing -- he used to send packages of Swiss soup to Einstein. Maybe this is the way to get information and help from people, too. Einstein heard about him more and trusted him and believed he was a man of integrity, and gave him a lot of information, told his friends to be frank with him, and even helped him get to know more from the son in the mental asylum.
LAMB: What did you think of the biography written by Carl Seelig?
BRIAN: Very good. Very good, except that it was a Einstein- and Helen Dukas-inspired book, and the information came almost always from friends.
LAMB: So if I picked up that book and read it and then read yours, what kind of information do you bring to the table that wasn't in that book?
BRIAN: Well, many people wouldn't speak frankly about Einstein until almost everyone close to him died. Now his stepdaughter Margot didn't die till 1982, and his secretary Dukas till '86, so people were cautious. When they were all dead, there were quite a lot of people who were willing to speak very frankly.
LAMB: Who did you talk to? Did you talk much to Helen Dukas?
BRIAN: Not a lot, no, not after that first conversation, but who I spoke with, for example, were a Presbyterian minister's son who were neighbors of the Einsteins, who knew them very personally, and who helped, in fact, smuggle the archives out from France and Germany to America, and knew them very personally, meeting them and that sort of thing. To Bucky, the doctor's son, who in Princeton used to be a chauffeur, and who went on almost every vacation with him for several years and was a very close friend. And also I spoke with his biographers. I spoke with his colleagues. Banesh Hoffmann, for example, was both a colleague and biographer.
LAMB: You paint a picture, at some point, of an office at Princeton that somebody -- I mean, I don't remember the story -- where somebody was hanging down to look in the office.
BRIAN: This is how Einstein intrigues people. One 70-year-old man went to the institute to see Einstein's study, and...
LAMB: It's still there?
BRIAN: It's still there, yes. And somebody else occupies it. And it was closed, so he climbed up -- and I think it's two stories -- and he was hanging from the windowsill, this 70-year-old man, to just take a glimpse inside. And there's a Japanese scientist, too, who was so enthralled with anything about Einstein, that he asked for a sliver of the brain from this man out in Kansas, and got it and took it back to Japan. And he has a museum of Einstein memorabilia.
LAMB: Who's Jane Swing? Do you remember?
BRIAN: Jane Swing is a -- that's a marvelous story -- a young woman who, with a girlfriend, the younger daughter of this girlfriend, had been to Einstein to ask him to help her with his math. And Einstein helped her with the math. And when the two girls came to call for the younger sister, Einstein invited them up to his very untidy study and asked if they'd like to have lunch with him. And they said yes, and the lunch consisted of something like baked beans, which he opened -- cans of baked beans, which he heated under a Bunsen burner, and gave them to the girls for their lunch with him.
LAMB: Did you hear him -- did you hear his voice?
BRIAN: I've heard his voice on radio and also in documentary films of him. It's a very quiet, gentle, slow, musical voice, which is an incredible contrast from this dynamic young man. As a young boy, he had a terrible temper, and he hit his sister Maja, over the head with a garden hoe in one of his tempers, so that she said, "To be the sister of a thinker, you must have a very thick skull." But he always seemed to have this rather mellow, soft, high-pitched -- I don't know, mellow and high-pitched may be contradictory -- voice.
LAMB: Accent?
BRIAN: A German accent always, but with rather things like, "I tink I will a little study" and "She is a very good theory."
LAMB: Where are they -- either the recordings or the films of Albert Einstein kept?
BRIAN: Oh, various different places. Like there'd be CBS and that sort of thing. The archives have some. Film companies have some. And I'm sure Hebrew University. Hebrew University have the master -- the original archives. Princeton have a copy, and Boston University have a copy.
LAMB: He was offered the presidency of Israel.
BRIAN: He was offered the presidency of Israel, and he was very ill. It was shortly before he died. He died in '55 at 76. He was offered it, obviously, in '48, when Israel became Israel. But he said that it was not a job he could do, really dealing with people. And despite the fact that he claimed to be a man who loved to be alone and that sort of thing, he had more close friends than anyone I know about and communicated with more people and wrote to them and...
LAMB: Who were his closest friends?
BRIAN: I think his closest friends were, in his young days, Marcel Grossmann and Michelangelo Besso, who worked with him on his science -- was like a sounding board for him; and another man called Max Born, who was a scientist, and Max Born's wife, Hedi Born. And in America, in later life, Bucky was one of his closest friends, this man Thomas Bucky, the...
LAMB: And who was he?
BRIAN: Thomas Bucky was a medical doctor.
LAMB: Where?
BRIAN: Living in Connecticut.
LAMB: How did they get...
BRIAN: He was living in New York City at the time.
LAMB: How did they get to be friends?
BRIAN: Well, the father, Gustav Bucky, was the medical doctor to Einstein's stepdaughters, Elsa and Margot. And he met them through that. And he was also an inventor, Bucky. He'd invented a kind of camera for medical purposes, which is still in use. And he and Einstein became very friendly, and Bucky could discuss science with him and medicine. Strangely enough, Einstein had many medical doctors as friends, though he was very skeptical about the medical profession and their ability to cure.
LAMB: How tall was he?
BRIAN: About 5'6".
LAMB: How heavy was he?
BRIAN: In later years, he was a bit heavy, but he had quite a good physique. With that little liaison or flirtation with Luise Rainer, the movie star, you can see he looks quite in good shape, quite muscular. He loved rowing. He is in white there, and he's rowing there with Luise Rainer and her husband, the famous playwright.
LAMB: Was there some suspicion on the part of her husband that there was something going on between the two of them?
BRIAN: He was a very jealous man. Have you got his name there? He's quite a famous...
LAMB: Yes, I can get it. Clifford -- Clifford Odets.
BRIAN: Clifford Odets. Clifford Odets. He was a very jealous man. He had many affairs himself. That's perhaps why he suspected his wife, Luise Rainer. And Einstein was quite flirtatious with her, and she obviously was attracted to him. And Odets was so jealous that photographs that were taken, every one he could get hold of, he cut out the photograph of Einstein's head, and that's one of the few photos that escaped that jealous attack.
LAMB: How long was he married to Mileva?
BRIAN: He was married to Mileva from about 1900 to 1918, about 17 years.
LAMB: And we've got a picture here of the two boys.
BRIAN: That's right.
LAMB: And what was his relationship to Hans Albert?
BRIAN: Hans Albert, his eldest son. Well, in their young days, he was an adorable father. They adored him. He was very playful with them, and they found him fascinating, and he was very interested in their upbringing. But when the divorce happened, when there was the breakdown, he remained in Berlin, and she went back to Switzerland. And she felt that he was getting the boys to dislike him, the trouble with the divorce. And they remained with her pretty well for the rest of their lives until they grew up. The youngest boy went into the mental asylum as a schizophrenic. The eldest boy came over to America and became quite a prominent engineer, and he worked in California. And he quite occasionally saw his father, but Einstein was rather a remote father, although he was very fond of children and often very helpful of other people's children.
LAMB: When did he begin to have the affair with his second wife?
BRIAN: During World War I, he was very unhappy with Mileva. I think partly the disappearance or whatever happened to this young, first baby girl they had caused the first wife to be terribly miserable and depressed. And she had a sister who was very badly mentally retarded. And then he became interested in his cousin, Elsa. Interestingly enough, as she became his wife, his cousin's mother and his mother were sisters, and his father and his wife's father were brothers -- were cousins, rather.
LAMB: And then his second wife was his cousin.
BRIAN: That's right.
LAMB: How close?
BRIAN: Well, so close, because Elsa's mother, his second wife, and his mother were sisters.
LAMB: So second cousins.
BRIAN: Yes, and Elsa's father and his father were cousins. So there were sisters and cousins of their -- so it was very close.
LAMB: How long was he with his second wife before he divorced his first?
BRIAN: Seventeen years with his first wife.
LAMB: But I mean, how long were they having an affair before they...
BRIAN: Oh. Well, it's hard to tell, but he met -- he was very ill in World War I -- because of the diet they had to go through in Germany, very ill, and she helped almost save his life. And then they became very close and friendly, and then they married. I think the affair maybe was for a few years. And then that marriage lasted until she died in 1936. She came across to Princeton with him.
LAMB: Did he ever remarry after that?
BRIAN: He never remarried, no. He had many offers of marriage.
LAMB: Offers of marriage.
BRIAN: Yes, and mostly in the mail.
LAMB: What would you say his relationship was, overall, with women and vice versa?
BRIAN: I think he was very fond of women. He had the almost typical view of men in those days that women were not as bright as men. In one rather embarrassing interview he had, he said that "In women, God may have created a sex without brains." But when Marie Curie was brought up to him, the Nobel Prize winner, he said, "Well, she may be an exception."

Now he must have found out quite differently when he met his first wife, Mileva, who was studying physics at Zurich Polytechnic with him. So over the years he had a greater, higher view of women than that. But he was very fond of women, and they adored him. Any woman I spoke to who knew him, particularly his close friends, speak of him in terms of adoration.
LAMB: If you were sitting in the room with him, what would you see? What would you...
BRIAN: I.F. Stone, the gadfly journalist, went to tea with Einstein and said it was like having tea with God. And I.F. Stone's son, who also I interview for the book, said that the difference in their conversation was fascinating. His father...
LAMB: Let me just interrupt to make sure to the audience -- this is not I.F. Stone. This is a picture of Fiorello La Guardia and do you know who the gentlemen is in the middle?
BRIAN: Yes, that's a rabbi. Rabbi...
LAMB: Stephen Wise.
BRIAN: Stephen Wise, a famous American rabbi, laughing, and there -- that's Einstein was a great laugher. He laughed at almost any joke anyone told him, even if he'd heard it several times, people said because he was so kind and didn't want to hurt people.
LAMB: Didn't mean to interrupt, but you mentioned I.F Stone...
BRIAN: Yes.
LAMB: ...and you have a lot in here about I.F. Stone.
BRIAN: Yes.
LAMB: Who was he?
BRIAN: That's new information, too. He was a liberal, left-wing journalist who attacked all the authority figures, and had his own journal -- he was based in Washington, DC -- called "I.F. Stone's Weekly." And Einstein was one of his subscribers, and interestingly enough, Marilyn Monroe was another subscriber, and she bought a copy for every member of Congress and sent it to them.
LAMB: You said that its inaugural issue of the newsletter was only 5,300 copies? Three -- 5,300 subscribers?
BRIAN: 5,300, I think that's right, yeah. I mean, it had a small but very influential readership, and they thought along the same lines. They were both liberal. They were both great liberals. They both were very sympathetic towards the plight of Israel, but also very sympathetic to the being fair to the Arabs. And through their correspondence, Einstein invited him and his family to lunch, and they had this great conversation together, which I.F. Stone told me about, and the son, which -- do you find it quite delightful?
LAMB: And what was the conversation?
BRIAN: Well, they're mostly discussing about peace, and they were also discussing about McCarthy. It was during the McCarthy years, and I.F. Stone had a very low opinion of McCarthy, and so did Einstein.
LAMB: Was it Christopher Stone, the son? Where is he living?
BRIAN: Christopher's son -- the other son, you mean?
LAMB: No, I.F. Stone's son.
BRIAN: Oh, the son who I interviewed is in California, and he's a prominent lawyer and very interested in music, and the other son I think is editor of the Federation for American Scientists -- editor of their journal.
LAMB: I wrote down in the early part of this, words like "pacifist," "left-winger," "an accused Communist," "Communist sympathizer," all kinds of words that you used to define Albert Einstein.
BRIAN: He was a tremendous pacifist until the Nazis came to power, and also during the Spanish Civil War, when he realized that the democracy was completely at stake. And then he was a realist, and he disappointed pacifists by saying, "The democracies have to rearm to survive," and when Israel was threatened, saying, "Obviously, a small country has a right to defend itself."

He was a tremendous liberal. He belonged to the Social Democratic Party, which in Germany, the strongest platform they had was social justice for all, and that the major industries should be either owned by the government or controlled by the government. And because he was a liberal during the McCarthy era and the Cold War, and because he saw the Soviet side of things as against the American side of things, almost like a devil's advocate, people thought he was a Communist, but he was the farthest thing from a Communist. He hated tyrannies of any kind. He hated the Stalin regime. But he would argue that the Americans were making mistakes, too.

And so when Sidney Hook, who was a philosopher and a well-known philosopher, argued with him in person and by letter defending America, Einstein would put the Russian or Soviet point of view, although he was definitely not for dictatorships, just to even the playing field sort of thing.
LAMB: The Rosenbergs.
BRIAN: The Rosenbergs were accused of being atom bomb spies, which they almost inevitably were and were sentenced to death and were executed. Einstein appealed that they should not be executed, saying that it was possible they were spies, but we were at peace, nobody else in such circumstances would be executed, it was obviously a political thing for their execution, and appealing for their lives. Of course, he wasn't successful.
LAMB: You say that he was loved and hated, and -- go back to the time when he was hated the most. How would we have seen that if we were alive when he was...
BRIAN: He was hated by the Germans, of course, the Nazis, because he was almost regarded as the representative of Jews in Germany, the representative of Jewish intellectuals. And he spoke out against the Nazis. And, in fact, when they put a price on his head and people threatened to kill him and he was in Belgium and being protected by the queen of Belgium, who was a friend of his, strangely enough, and who secretly -- she had detectives guard him, when his wife begged him to stop talking out against the Nazis, to keep quiet, his life was in danger, he refused to keep quiet. He said, "I wouldn't be Einstein if I kept quiet." He was a very, physically, a very courageous man, as well as morally.
LAMB: What do you think his reaction would be if he came back today and saw that a lot of the papers coming out of the Soviet Union show that some of the people he was defending were actually Communists?
BRIAN: Who, for example?
LAMB: The Rosenbergs or the Whittaker Chambers story of Alger Hiss and some of those.
BRIAN: He wasn't defending Alger Hiss; I don't think he got involved with Alger Hiss. And he didn't deny that the Rosenbergs may have been spies, and he wouldn't have approved of their being spies, but he just said that to kill them, particularly the parents of two young boys, for spying in wartime with, theoretically, an ally, the death penalty was not fair and not just. Social justice was a tremendously strong...
LAMB: What was his relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer?
BRIAN: Ostensibly, Oppenheimer was his boss when Oppenheimer was in charge of the Institute for Advanced Study, and it was a mutual admiration of scientists. And when Oppenheimer was accused of being a Communist and, or rather, a security risk, Einstein defended him because he knew, and others knew, that everything about Oppenheimer that was being revealed then was known before he was cleared to head the project to produce the atom bomb. Again, he felt it was a political witch-hunt because of the McCarthy era.
LAMB: What was the 6-1 vote? He tried to intervene. I remember writing it down that Mr. Oppenheimer lost that vote on whether or not, I think he was...
BRIAN: That must have been security clearance.
LAMB: It was -- yeah, it's the members voted 6-to-1 not to reinstate his clearance.
BRIAN: That's right. Eventually, apparently, he was exonerated by president LBJ, L.B. Johnson in the White House.
LAMB: So what would you say in the end was Albert Einstein's direct relationship to the building of the atom bomb?
BRIAN: No relationship at all to the building of it -- well, no, let me start again. He wrote the formula E=mc2. The splitting of the atom was discovered by accident by a man called Otto Hahn in the '30s, but he didn't know what he'd done. And a Jewish colleague of his, Lise Meitner and her cousin discovered he had found out that the atom could be split. Wherein the extension of that, the chain reaction could take place, they knew that it was possible to create an atom bomb.

Einstein, when he heard through secret information through Switzerland that the Germans were probably working to create an atom bomb, realized they could win the war and destroy civilization. So he was persuaded by Leo Szilard, a former student of his, also a brilliant physicist, and Eugene Wigner, another physicist, to write a letter to President Roosevelt, warning him that the Germans were not allowing uranium to be sent out of Czechoslovakia, and there was very good information an atom bomb was in the works; he should get onto it for the Americans.
LAMB: Do you think you would have liked him?
BRIAN: I think I would have loved him. And I think this is a motive, too, for writing biographies -- people you would like to have known very much.
LAMB: Do you happen to know where this picture on the cover is from?
BRIAN: I don't. I don't think it's a very good one of him. He looks far more gloomy than he does in many photographs. It's intriguing cover, I think, particularly putting his head above the "I." Maybe there's some symbolism. I -- but...
LAMB: Did you have anything to say about how this cover looked?
BRIAN: Absolutely not.
LAMB: And why did you do business with John Wiley?
BRIAN: I had a relative who worked for them in England, and he told me that they were now doing trade books, and were interested in biographies. They were interested in a man called Martin Gilbert, who had done all the official biographies of Winston Churchill, and they've recently done a biography of De Gaulle. So knowing they were a scientific publisher and were now doing trade books, it seemed ideal for me. So I contacted them without mentioning my relative at all -- it was no influence at all in this -- and they were interested.
LAMB: Is it an American company?
BRIAN: Oh, yes. Yes, and I think it's from the 19th century.
LAMB: And then you have your dedication. And who are these folks?
BRIAN: My wife, Martine, who came to every archive. We worked together. Every word of the book, she went over and often criticized, and I rewrote frequently from her point of view. Danielle, my daughter who lives in Leesburg and works in Washington, DC. She's the president of POGO, the Project On Government Oversight. It's a watchdog group that investigates fraud and abuse in government and in big corporations. My grandson and my granddaughter, Alex and Emma.
LAMB: And where are they?
BRIAN: My daughter and my grandchildren live in Leesburg. My wife is in an adjoining room.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife?
BRIAN: I met my wife in England. She was in Ormskirk, near Liverpool -- she was my sister Rosemary's best friend.
LAMB: How long have you been married?
BRIAN: We've been married since the '60s, the early '60s -- 35 years.
LAMB: This book, you say, took 25 years. How did you feel about it when it was over? Did you like it?
BRIAN: I read it again, because I find him so fascinating. Look at that incident, for example, where he's having his portrait painted, and a letter comes in saying a woman is in despair. Her son believes he's Jesus Christ and has isolated himself on a mountaintop, and he won't come down for anyone except Albert Einstein, if Albert Einstein would talk to him. Now here's a man who may be dangerous. He may be mad. Einstein agrees to see him. The women in Einstein's household are really frightened of what's going to happen. The man comes, and he looks rather frightening. Einstein goes walking in the woods with him and talks with him, and this man thinks he's Jesus Christ, and Einstein says to him, "Well, you know, Jesus Christ was a fisher of men. He wouldn't be stuck up a mountain." Apparently, this worked. Apparently the man then came down. But the interesting part is, Einstein says, "It seems so peaceful, the sort of life this man talked about, that I wonder if he's the sane one, and we're the lunatics."
LAMB: Somebody knocked on his door at midnight demanding to see him?
BRIAN: A woman who was mentally disturbed. He had a lot of these strange people come. There was a man who was, again, on this Communist thing under the McCarthy -- he was being called up in the McCarthy hearings and was very worried. He knocked on the door. Helen Dukas answered, and to protect Einstein, which she always did. But she knew Einstein would want to help this man, and he gave him advice, and helped him in a way.
LAMB: Never drove a car?
BRIAN: Never drove a car, but loved driving his little, simple boat with just a -- with no outboard or inboard motor, and no -- I don't think he had any protection, any floating device, and would drive it daringly at other boats, and just swerve aside at the last moment. He loved sailing. He loved playing his violin. There's this spontaneity of him as a young man. He's told somebody in an attic is playing a Mozart on a piano, and he doesn't know who it is. He breaks into the house, runs up, says, "Keep playing!" He's got his violin with him, and he finishes this piece with this old woman, and then...
LAMB: Have you been down to the Einstein statue in Washington, right across from the Vietnam Memorial?
BRIAN: I've been previously, and I'd tried to see it driving in, but I didn't see it.
LAMB: And you say you've never seen it.
BRIAN: I have seen it. Yes, I've seen it previously, yes.
LAMB: What do you think of it?
BRIAN: It's not good of him, I don't think.
LAMB: Why not?
BRIAN: How do you think any statues are good? I don't think the statue of Churchill in London is good of him. I don't know, having seen him on film and seeing these photos and him playing Ludo with this game with this little boy -- there he is for us. I think that's quite a good bust of him in that photograph. I don't know how clear it will come out. I think living people, it's very hard to get the lifeblood seen in the statues of them.
LAMB: I want to go back to the story -- you -- I was talking about another story earlier. I didn't read it then, but this is the one that Ashley Montagu told Einstein a joke with a Jewish inflection which became one of his favorites. Quote, "`It's about two Jewish tailors in the Bronx,' said Montagu. `One of them happens to mention the name of Einstein, and the other one says to him, 'Who's Einstein?' He says, 'You schlemiel! Who's Einstein? He's only the biggest scientist in the world.' 'What is he the biggest scientist in the world for?' 'Relativity.' 'What's relativity?' He says, 'Schlemiel, this is relativity. Supposing an old lady sits in your lap for a minute. A minute seems like an hour. But if a beautiful girl sits in your lap for an hour, an hour seems like a minute.' 'And this is relativity?' his companion asked. 'Yes,' he replies, 'that's relativity.' 'And from this he earns a living?' Einstein laughed heartily and said it was one of the best explanations of relativity he had ever heard."
BRIAN: Well, it's very funny, but, of course, it isn't a good explanation of relativity, which isn't what seems, but what, in fact, is.
LAMB: What is the quantum theory?
BRIAN: The quantum theory. Now this is fascinating, because it started off with a man called Max Planck, who was a German scientist who discovered that in electromagnetic phenomena, things didn't come in a solid stream, but were broken up into little pieces, like bullet pieces, called quanta, "little parts." And this absolutely was so new and almost frightening to the scientific community. It developed from there, and the essence of it is that in the sub-atomic world no single particle -- you cannot predict the behavior of any single particle. Prediction is impossible.

So that this brought forth from Einstein the very famous saying -- he was opposed to it -- his saying was, "God does not play dice. I can't believe God plays dice." Because he thought you would be able in time to predict what these particles did. Now an interesting story about this is that John Wheeler of Princeton, who was a colleague of the great Niels Bohr and is a very highly reputed scientist, I was discussing quantum theory with him for this book, "Genius Talk," and I said -- as he was discussing it, I said, "I see." And he said, "You do?" I said, "Well, I mean, I see -- I'm following what you're saying." He said, "I'm glad you say that, because if anyone tells you they understand quantum theory, they're lying." It's a very difficult and complicated field.
LAMB: You say that the FBI had a 1,600-page file on Albert Einstein.
BRIAN: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: What was in it? Did you look at it?
BRIAN: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, pretty well the whole 1,600 pages. Almost all garbage. They would take anything that came, often from lunatics or anonymous people writing from anywhere, accusing him of working on a death ray, of a plan to take over Hollywood and make it the movie capital for Communists.

And they themselves seemed scared to interview him. Hoover himself seemed scared all his life to interview Einstein, because of influential friends. And when they couldn't get to Einstein or find about him, because they suspected him and his secretary Dukas of maybe being -- helping Communists spy -- Nazi -- Communist spies, rather, or being Communist spies themselves. So when they couldn't get to Einstein, they started investigating Helen Dukas and looking at all her outgoing mail and incoming mail and doing tests on all the letters and all this sort of thing they did, and absolute nonsense because they were the most innocent people in the world, the most democratic people in the world.
LAMB: Where is the most material located? If somebody wants to go see a museum or a home or something Einstein, where would they go?
BRIAN: Well, the most material is in the archives, which were in these places: Hebrew University, Princeton University and Boston University. They're coming out in separate volumes over, probably, the next quarter of a century. About five volumes have already come out, giving you the scientific work, as well as the letters to and from Einstein. And if anybody wants a really good scientific book on Einstein, in absolute detail -- scientists -- it's by Abraham Pais, called "Subtle Is the Lord." It's a great book.
LAMB: And we're out of time. Here's the cover of the book. "Einstein: A Life," by Denis Brian. We thank you very much.
BRIAN: Thank you very much.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.