Seen through the eyes of a young friend Einstein was a simple, modest and ordinary man.
The professor and the Yo-yo
My father was a close friend of Albert Einstein. As a shy young visitor to Einstein's home, I was made to feel at ease when Einstein said, "I have something to show you." He went to his desk and returned with a Yo-Yo. He tried to show me how it worked but he couldn't make it roll back up the string. When my turn came, I displayed my few tricks and pointed out to him that the incorrectly looped string had thrown the toy off balance. Einstein nodded, properly impressed by my skill and knowledge. Later, I bought a new Yo-Yo and mailed it to the Professor as a Christmas present, and received a poem of thanks.
As boy and then as an adult, I never lost my wonder at the personality that was Einstein. He was the only person I knew who had come to terms with himself and the world around him. He knew what he wanted and he wanted only this: to understand within his limits as a human being the nature of the universe and the logic and simplicity in its functioning. He knew there were answers beyond his intellectual reach. But this did not frustrate him. He was content to go as far as he could.
In the 23 years of our friendship, I never saw him show jealousy, vanity, bitterness, anger, resentment, or personal ambition. He seemed immune to these emotions. He was beyond any pretension. Although he corresponded with many of the world's most important people, his stationery carried only a watermark - W - for Woolworth's.
To do his work he needed only a pencil only a pencil and a pad of paper. Material things meant nothing to him. I never knew him to carry money because he never had any use for it. He believed in simplicity, so much so that he used only a safety razor and water to shave. When I suggested that he try shaving cream, he said, "The razor and water do the job."
"But Professor, why don't you try the cream just once?" I argued. "It makes shaving smoother and less painful."
He shrugged. Finally, I presented him with a tube of shaving cream. The next morning when he came down to breakfast, he was beaming with the pleasure of a new, great discovery. "You know, that cream really works," he announced. "It doesn't pull the beard. It feels wonderful." Thereafter, he used the shaving cream every morning until the tube was empty. Then he reverted to using plain water.
Einstein was purely and exclusively a theorist. He didn't have the slightest interest in the practical application of his ideas and theories. His E=mc2 is probably the most famous equation in history - yet Einstein wouldn't walk down the street to see a reactor create atomic energy. He won the Nobel Prize for his Photoelectric Theory, a series of equations that he considered relatively minor in importance, but he didn't have any curiosity in observing how his theory made TV possible.
My brother once gave the Professor a toy, a bird that balanced on the edge of a bowl of water and repeatedly dunked its head in the water. Einstein watched it in delight, trying to deduce the operating principle. But be couldn't.
The next morning he announced, "I had thought about that bird for a long time before I went to bed and it must work this way…" He began a ling explanation. Then he stopped, realizing a flaw in his reasoning. "No, I guess that's not it," he said. He pursued various theories for several days until I suggested we take the toy apart to see how it did work. His quick expression of disapproval told me he did not agree with this practical approach. He never did work out the solution.
Another puzzle that Einstein could never understand was his own fame. He had developed theories that were profound and capable of exciting relatively few scientists. Yet his name was a household word across the civilized world. "I've had good ideas, and so have other men," he once said. "But it's been my good fortune that my ideas have been accepted." He was bewildered by his fame: people wanted to meet him; strangers stared at him on the street; scientists, statesmen, students, and housewives wrote him letters. He never could understand why he received this attention, why he was singled out as something special.
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