Book Review | “Einstein at Home” by Friedrich Herneck

Posted Friday, 19 August, 2016 by jorielov , , , , 2 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in [2016] as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. I received a complimentary ARC copy of “Einstein at Home” direct from the publisher Prometheus Books in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

My lifelong appreciation of Albert Einstein:

I have been fascinated by Einstein for most of my life, as I am a keen reader of the quantum realms. I have oft wondered how he was outside of the public eye and this incredible tome gives a reader an insight into this private world of his that I would appreciate reading.

My lifelong appreciation on behalf of Albert Einstein started at quite a young age – as I was a science & science-fiction geek for as long as I can remember. There was something wicked genuine about everything I read on behalf of Einstein – from his pursuit of understanding the fabric of creation from both a religious and scientific background to his interests in taking theory and understanding to new levels of creative thought and illumination; Einstein to me, was one of those rare finds of a childhood where I spent a lot of time sorting out which scientists I wanted to learn more about over the score of my lifetime.

I started off in the fringes of where (recorded) history, time and scientific rhetoric leave the trail of his legacy and allow for pop cultural speculation, public praise and layreader intuition to take-over his personal history. Threading my way through whichever ‘new’ discovery I could put my hands on about Einstein’s journey was some of the happier memories growing up, as whenever I would even learn a new kernel of insight towards finding the stories behind the man who left everyone pondering E=mc² was worth pursuing!

Towards that end, I have several books in my personal library I am working towards reading including Einstein and Religion by Max Jammer and Einstein by Walter Isaacson.

I am thrilled to bits to have an unexpected ‘start’ to my non-fiction readings on behalf of the man whose inspired me to pursue re-living his path whilst attempting to see what he saw and understand what only he knew – retreating into a conversational collection of who he was before everything else was known is quite the treat!

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Book Review | “Einstein at Home” by Friedrich HerneckEinstein at Home

These intimate, candid descriptions of the private life of Albert Einstein come from a series of interviews with Herta Waldow, a housekeeper who lived with Einstein and his wife and daughter from 1927 to 1933 at their residence in Berlin. After World War II, science historian Friedrich Herneck interviewed Ms. Waldow and published the conversations in the former East Germany. Unavailable in English till now, these five interviews offer fascinating glimpses into the great scientist’s daily routines while he lived as a celebrated scientist in Weimar Germany.

Einstein’s well-known idiosyncrasies come to life in these conversations: his disheveled hair that was only poorly trimmed by his myopic wife, his love of classical music, his playing of the violin to help him think, his delight in sailing, his wide circle of friends and many social engagements, and his female companions besides his wife. Many celebrity acquaintances are also mentioned: from movie star Charlie Chaplin and conductor Erich Kleiber to writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann and fellow scientists Max Planck, Max Born, and Erwin Schrödinger.

With a detailed introduction that puts these interviews in context, these colorful conversations create a vivid picture of Albert Einstein the man.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Find on Book Browse

ISBN: 9781633881464

on 10th May, 2016

Pages: 200

About (Translator) Josef Eisinger

Josef Eisinger

Josef Eisinger is the author of Einstein on the Road and the translator of Brahms’s letters in Johannes Brahms, Life and Letters, by Styra Avins.

A native of Vienna, he is a physicist whose research has ranged from nuclear physics to molecular biology and from the history of medicine to music history. He is professor emeritus in the Department of Structural and Chemical Biology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, the author of some two hundred articles in professional journals and books, and the recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships.

About Friedrich Herneck

Friedrich Herneck (1909-1993) was a German historian of science. Among his many books were Einstein and His Worldview and Einstein and the Atom Bomb.

Published By: Prometheus Books (@prometheusbks)

Originally published as Einstein privat in German (1978)

Available Formats: Trade Paperback & Ebook

Special Note:

Available in English for the first time, these five interviews with a housemaid who worked for Albert Einstein offer vivid glimpses of the great scientist’s life in Germany before World War II.

Converse via: #AlbertEinstein OR #Einstein, #QuantumPhysics OR #Physics + #ScienceBooks

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Introductory Insights & How Mr Herneck became acquainted with Einstein:

Uniquely enough, as the author’s dedication is penned in August of 2015 – his acquaintance with Einstein was through the living stories of a family (the Mendels) who knew Einstein personally. His memories of those conversations during the second World War is what led him to give this legacy back to the world. What impressed me the most, is that no matter how Einstein enters your life, you simply want to share what you’ve learnt. The man has been inspiring everyone for generations and I believe will continue to do so throughout the coming ages. The only downside I perceived as a child (and have kept as an adult) is that whenever someone’s rise to the level of fame Einstein claimed, there will be a backlash of regret on some level because not everyone will respect your personal privacy nor understand the casualty of losing a separation of your public life from your private hours.

I liked the candor of Alice Calparice in the Foreword – granting us a balm of understanding of our own curiosities regarding knowing more about the ‘man’ of whom Einstein was rather than having a ‘limited’ image of who he was whilst he was alive. She denoted his own worrisome thoughts about the scrutiny and microscopic dissections of his personal thoughts and observations whilst granting the reader a short history of how the book came to be published.

I hadn’t realised the brevity of danger the Einsteins had faced prior to their arrival in America nor of how close they had come to not being able to leave Germany during the war era. It is incredible they had the foresight to move to Belgium and to recognise their options to where a life changing move would save their freedom. Further still, to imagine how their home was demolished and left cindering during the war was even more humbling to realise how close their lives were touched by a war era everyone can still remember as it’s chapter was not closed too far off from today’s world.

I loved how the conversations we’re about to read inside this book were inspired by taking notice of the Einstein’s housekeeper’s memories and how in turn, her observations were realistically true to the man of whom cherished his privacy above all else. Finding out the personal history of the conversationalist was heart-warming, as Herneck’s life was not without it’s conflictions and adversities; in fact, he largely lived a life fighting to survive and to overcome the war in a different way than the Einsteins. All was not quite the same for a long time – events can change lives in such small ways, it’s only through compassionate understanding that anyone re-entering the scene through recollections shared lateron can hope to give a signal of warmth and light back to those who lived such complicated lives.

My Review of Einstein at Home:

The interesting bit for me, is starting out to understand how Einstein and Herneck’s paths inter-crossed and merged together – first through Herneck’s academic teachings (wherein he would ask his students to think for themselves about what the most renown theories meant to them) and lateron, through what surrounds this volume at it’s core: the conversations of Einstein’s housekeeper. Herneck lived during a period of history I studied very little, if the introductory bits prove anything, they show how limited education truly is by scope and breadth. You only get the superficial accounts when your studying History in school; not the heartier bits which explain the socioeconomic, sociopolitical and political back-stories (of countries) which would be more pertinent to understand.

One known truth I realised as a young girl – is not only how the geographic lines on all world maps have the tendency to ‘change’ within a blink of an eye, but so too, does the make-up of each of those countries. There are certain truths to understanding the differences and the histories of the countries (per continent) as it brings us fuller into a realisation of how history is transformative during times of strife and unthinkable change. I always wondered why teachers never felt we (as children and young adults) were not in a position to readily understand more about the world in which we lived?

Einstein’s early years:

It has not lost my attention the significance of the year of Einstein’s birth as it is another quirk of numerical observation on my behalf. Nor can I help smirking from the fact I recently shared a cat of mine curiously awoken by a book (Neil Gaiman’s essays) I was borrowing from my library of whom shares the subject’s (of this book) surname! I hadn’t forethought to realise I’d be treated to an abridged version of Einstein’s life within Einstein at Home and for a girl whose trepidation to pursue her curiosity of a scientist this was quite the gift indeed!

Most of my hesitations were due to not wanting my curiosity to overtake the sensitivity of understanding personal privacy; I never wanted to seek out too much about Einstein in other words, if by some osmosis of my own enquiries were mirrored by others, which would grant full licence of disclosure to where all of Einstein’s private hours were effectively disclosed. I’d rather hope we had learnt that hard lesson of appreciation from a safe distance and of a supposition of enquiry grounded in a tactful approach that doesn’t lessen a man’s worth or entreat too far afield from what is ethically proper. Ergo, I could fully appreciate the notation about how this line in the sand was both respected, known and at times crossed outright as the general public sometimes took their own curiosities to a heightened level of encroachment.

What an incredible treasure Einstein’s father gave him (the compass) which led to the impetus behind a rather infamous theory (general relativity) proving that parents can not only be the spark of inspiration but truly can engage their children in a thoughtful application of pure curiosity leading to intellectual pursuits of discovery! I smiled reading this passage, as it did not surprise me such a seemingly simplistic gesture became quite the auspiciously providential gift!

I was not surprised by the fact Einstein had a preference for playing violin and chamber music – this is one of the types of musical influence that can inspire the mind to think about the complexities of life. Music reaches us on a different level of recognition – it talks to us and speaks to us on such a higher level of cognitive awareness, it gives fuell to pondering the larger topics that enrich our mind to explore. I grew up listening to orchestrations, symphonies and other harmonically or melodically beautiful instrumentation’s to such an extent I started to develop my own inclinations of a particular ‘sound’ in certain forms of musical expression. One vein of interest became a passion and that is ambient (and some variants of trance) electronica due to how it’s a merging of both mind, imagination and the spirit of what can universally be felt as outside our world. I can definitely see why he focused on the music which creatively fuelled his own desires as music as a way of becoming a creative voice’s catalyst of thought.

I was surprised learning that Einstein thrived in academia albeit when the school frowned on freethinking, student initiated discussional enquiries and a request from repetitive teaching practices. In this, I could resoundingly relate to Einstein directly as it felt like a mirror image of my own difficulties in school. Aside from the fact I never excelled in mathematics (I leave the fault with my teachers, not my tutors), I too, fought hard against the routines and structure of traditional education. The reason I was quite surprised (shocked is a better word!) that he was able to thrive in a school setting is because partially the reason I started to focus on Einstein as a young girl was due to the testimony of his difficulties in school; he felt like the kind of person I could relate too, being dyslexic and scientifically curious. Although, like most things I took as ‘fact’ whilst growing up and are continuously being proven wrong or completely ‘false’ as an adult, I suppose this is another bit of trivia on that growing list! My appreciation on his behalf remains even if technically my initial reasons for wanting to know more about him are not able to be re-mentioned hereafter. I had hoped to find teachers as keenly student-centered as Einstein found during his sixteenth Autumn, however, I was never as fortunate as he was to have found Jost Winteler or the new school he attended to brush up on subjects he was not naturally akin to understanding.

The cheeky bit though is that similar to Einstein, I pushed the buttons of my teachers – I was consistently and openly debating what was being taught or discussed as I wanted something more substantial than the rudimentary syllabus they loved so dearly to base their teachings upon. I had no idea Einstein was the first students (of his class/generation) to try the patience of his teachers simply because he was inquisitive, preferred (like I did!) to make his own mind about the concepts he was being taught (rather than take everything as verified truth/fact) whilst attaching his attention to those studies that interested him most and dismiss those that were not as readily on par. He actively dismissed subjects or teachers based on what interested him rather than what was required by course work or degree (this too, I can relate!) as he was searching for his own path towards developing his own footprint towards a collection of knowledge that fed his intellectual curiosity. I am so proud of him!

Einstein’s growing presence in the Physics community:

I had wondered if there might have been a silver of golden opportunity about Einstein’s work at the patent office! I couldn’t quite place my finger on ‘what’ exactly whilst a young girl, but my inquisitive nature did strike it’s chord to recognise there was more to his job than meets the eye! Clearly, I wish I could tell the younger Jorie what she picked up on was the fact Einstein could observe advancements in theoretical physics and the expansive world of applied physics simply by the patents coming across his desk! He was at the very heart of where a traditional information highway existed! Talk about an untapped advantage for a bloke who wanted to write his own quantum theories!

I hadn’t realised Einstein had held not only academic positions as he built his career in Physics but also, that he appreciated having his spouse(s) closely tied to the subjects that he was most passionate about as I had previously read he enjoyed talking to his wife (Elsa or Mileva I don’t recall) about his theories and interests. It was further engrossing to see how he put the pieces together for general relativity but also, how his pursuit to perfect his theory led him to new positions even though at home, his marriage was dissolving due to a lack of communication and emotional connection on his part. You can almost see how it happened – as whilst he was getting recognition for his work in Physics, expanding on the tremendous insight he gleamed as he followed his heart into the quantum realms since he was first self-motivated to read books in Physics at a young age – he was not addressing his presence at home. Partially this can be explained by the dire circumstances of living paycheck to paycheck whilst raising a young family of two and keeping his eye on where the Physics community was thriving to keep their place on the forefront of Science in-tact. It was sombering to see how he tried to reach higher positions to stablise his family’s finances but at the same time, the hours he had to put in to those positions came at a price.

One note of interest is Einstein appreciated lay readers of Science! I found that remarkable as I agreed with what was stated, this is not always the case amongst the scientific community if your non-specialised or without a degree to validate your interests. How remarkable it would have been to attend one of his lectures where he was genuinely keen on meeting such readers as myself?

There is a hearty girth of knowledge following this section, where you get a lovely history of all of Einstein’s greatest achievements, recognitions and a small hint towards his regret on one pursuit of his life in regards to not always being adamant about connecting dots that appear before your eyes. This backs up another book I found in regards to Oppenheimer and Einstein. What was remarkable is how dedicated Einstein was to understanding the world through Physics and how Physics gave him a blueprint of how the universe was designed.

The conversations and their revelations as remembered by Herta:

A few things were quite curious in the first conversation, as Herta was relating facts about the living quarters for the Einsteins whilst they were still living in Berlin (which is the purpose of the conversations): one is that despite there being other tenants, none of the residences per floor of the building spoke or engaged in communication with each other despite the closeness of their residences; second she was not intending to take up domestic employment but did so out of health issues; and third, she had no confidence as a cook yet Einstein deemed her food the best quality tasted! It was an interesting segue into the conversational side of the story, after having learnt more about Einstein’s life from birth to death in the proceeding chapters! The re-visited fact about Herta’s cooking was interesting only because it was told one way initially before we dove into the context of the book and now happily was seen from her point-of-view!

There were moments in the first conversation where I felt Herneck was trying to lead the responses by Herta or rather in others, outright contradict her replies, but I felt this was on par with what was described about him preceding the start of Einstein at Home. Where Herneck was under pressure to articulate his findings in a particular fashion and draw out information that others felt pertinent to know even if it was not entirely in-step with a routine journalist enquiry. I felt this discourse myself as I read through Herta’s responses and a bit of her unease too, at the prompts and retorts.

Strangely I think Herneck was too consumed by evidential support to Herta’s memory and the claims she made on behalf of what she remembered. This too, I felt stemmed from the pressure Herneck was under at the time. I felt a bit bad for both him and Herta in some ways, as I truly think Herta saw these sessions going much differently than they had. It was not the light-hearted reminiscing you’d hope to find she could enjoy going through but rather a very directed and specific exercise of pre-determined questions that at times nearly felt like she was being interrogated.

I did like seeing her find a rhythm of comfortability along the course of the conversation, including where she revealled the economy of the era and how much her budget would yield not only the necessities but a few luxury purchases as well. I have oft found economic comparisons in price, household budget or salary to be a clear-cut way to understand the world, as it’s one thing everyone can find a relatable gesture of ordinary life.

I was grateful to receive the reflections of Herta as she tried her best to relate in a lively manner what she remembered of Einstein and his life whilst in Berlin; including all the scientists and special visitors she would see arriving at the flat. It had to be an incredible period of time to be living vicariously through her employer at a point where being a housekeeper meant she could do light duties around the house whilst keeping her ears at the ready for memory-keeping purposes. You can tell she didn’t attempt to store too many of the everyday observations she observed but her acute photographic memory yielded more than I think she realised she possibly could. It had to be gratifying to her on that level.

One of her more touching recollections is when Elsa misunderstood what Herta would appreciate for a Christmas present (a fox shawl) and took her to the place where it was purchased so that it could be exchanged for a more fitting gift. This bespoke to the comfortability Herta had with the Einsteins but also the affection they shared mutually; as she truly was an extension of their family’s circle.

Herta’s recollections also dispel a lot of the cultural myth and misconceptions on Einstein’s behalf – everything from his hobbies, interests and personal habits at home. From that stand-point, this book is quite an interesting read, as most of what you’ve heard or understood on his behalf is utter falsehood!

A reflection of sombering revelation on behalf of Herneck:

Herneck lived his life attempting to understand how to circumvent events and changes he could not alter but had to resume his life within the boundaries of what he was allowed and not allowed to do. To me, it was remarkable he maintained his sanity as he was a very learned man caught up in a world at war. The fact he did not live too far after the wall came down in Berlin did not surprise me – it felt as if when that happened his world-view and his stability of mind crumpled with the wall itself. His soul surely must have felt broken by the changes which he could not handle understanding at a point in his life where he had felt he had survived through everything he could by keeping his mind alive in academic pursuits. He gave back his intellectual curiosities but when everything changed around him, it was as if the light inside him slowly dwindled until it faded from view.

My appreciation for Josef Eisinger:

His job as translator was quite the difficult one, and yet I feel he surpassed his own goals to bring to life not only Einstein’s living voice out of the ethers but to ground his readers into the heart of what is left inside this book to pensively ponder long after it’s read. It’s a moving thread of ideas, thoughts and the ponderings of a man who was perpetually curious about life and truly tried to live as right as he could whilst he was alive. He had his faults but he had his accomplishments as well; such as most of us do.

Eisinger has given us an opening of dialogue into who Einstein was as a man and of his more private side of where the public was not always privy to know his more intimate thoughts. I applaud the way in which he approached the translation and how he left the beauty of the curiosity that became Einstein’s landmark legacy of recognition. The fact he could highlight Einstein’s tenacious academic and intellectual curiosities with such a prevalence of joy is even more remarkable. Einstein at Home breathes alive the life of a man most of us have grown interested in knowing more about and have hesitated to entreat on his privacy. This would definitely serve as a stepping stone* towards further readings on behalf of Einstein as he is presented in such a clear and definitive voice. Better still, he’s personable and highly relatable!

  • I would recommend reading Kepler and the Universe (see also my review) ahead of reading Einstein at Home as it presents a better foundation for the concepts & mathematical history that is related to Einstein’s biographical sketch of how his life’s work changed the scientific community inasmuch as how his theories expounded upon or outright changed previous scientific thought.

Final word of curiosity: notation on cover art:

I am curious truly, about the different images between the ARC and finalised copy. Of course, as a 3rd Year Book Blogger I have grown accustomed to book covers changing designs, however, as this was relatively hinged on a photograph, I was curious why one was switched for another, except to say, I believe the final copy has a younger Einstein than the one featured on my ARC. The ARC version has Einstein in his study (presumably) full of white hair but evermore present with his beloved pipe! On that note, I could not have gotten within an inch of him in person, as I’m severely allergic to smoke! I oft mused this was one interesting wrinkle in my admiration of Einstein! I can appreciate him from afar but never closer than that (if all things were equal)!

More curious – the Einstein on the ARC is the image I generally draw to mind of Einstein. Never his younger self, but his presence in his senior years. He’s wearing smart slacks and what appears to be a leather bomber jacket, seated in a reclined position in an oversized chair. He’s much more relaxed and settled in his being; almost to a cheeky extent of a ‘pose’ for camera. Whereas in the final cover, he’s more aloof and pensive. The ARC photograph also shows a more organised state of his living quarters whereas the final copy shows a bit of chaos slightly out of order.

Isn’t that interesting, dear hearts!?

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I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!

Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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{SOURCES: Cover art of “Einstein at Home”, book synopsis of “Einstein at Home”, translator photograph of Josef Eisinger, biographies of Friedrich Herneck & Josef Eisinger and ‘special note’ about this being available in English was taken from the Press Release provided by the publisher Prometheus Books and used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie in Canva: Ruminations & Impressions Banner, #FuellYourSciFi badge and the Comment Box Banner.}

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Friday, 19 August, 2016 by jorielov in #FuellYourSciFi, #JorieLovesIndies, 20th Century, Albert Einstein, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Book Cover | Notation on Design, Book Review (non-blog tour), Life in Another Country, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Prometheus Books, Quantum | Mechanics Physics Theory, Quantum Physics, Science, The World Wars, Vignettes of Real Life

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2 responses to “Book Review | “Einstein at Home” by Friedrich Herneck

  1. Carolyn Steele

    As if the title, “Einstein at Home,” weren’t enough to entice me to read, your review completely drew me in! Thanks for alerting me to this book, Jorie. I can’t wait to read a more personal view of this brilliant mind!

    • Forgive me, Ms Steele – I hadn’t seen your lovely comment until today! Somehow this one ‘sneaked’ past me! lol I was truly captured by how this book delved into Einstein’s personal life but also, the internal framework of how he internalised things! It was a close and personal testament about how he lived, how he strived to understand the impossible and what truly motivated him throughout his life! It was meant to serve as my ‘foot in the door’ entrance into reading more books about him but I sort of become sidetracked last Autumn; ergo, I am picking up the interest lateron this year instead!

      I definitely want to borrow “the book!” from #BEA16 (Book Expo America 2016) which I ached to find in my #library’s catalogue which blessedly was added shortly after it’s release: “The Other Einstein” by Marie Benedict whilst reading more books as I feel inclined to pursue his footsteps! #sohappy I’ve inspired you to follow me as I seek out more about this lovely man whose curiosity still inspires all of us!!

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