Mileva Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are already wives, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mileva has been smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage.
And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.
THE OTHER EINSTEIN is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight. It offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow.
"I confess to beginning this book with only the most commonplace understanding of Albert Einstein and hardly any knowledge of his first wife, Mileva Marić. In fact, I had never even heard of Mileva Marić until I helped my son Jack with a report on the wonderful Scholastic children’s book Who Was Albert Einstein? and it mentioned briefly that Albert Einstein’s first wife was also a physicist.
I became intrigued. Who was this unknown woman, a physicist at a time when very few women had university educations? And what role might she have played in the great scientist’s discoveries?
When I first began researching Mileva, I learned that rather than being unknown as I had thought, she was the focal point of much debate in the physics community. The part she might have played in the formation of Albert’s groundbreaking theories in 1905 was hotly contested, particularly once a cache of letters between the couple from the years 1897 to 1903—when Mileva and Albert were university students together and first married—was discovered in the 1980s. In those letters, Albert and Mileva discussed projects they undertook together, and the letters caused ripples throughout the physics world. Was Mileva simply a sounding board for his brainstorms, as some scientists insisted? Did she only assist him with the complicated mathematical calculations, as others claimed? Or did she play a much more critical role, as a few physicists believed?
As I dug into Mileva’s history, I discovered that she was fascinating in her own right, not just as a footnote in Albert Einstein’s story. Her rise from the relative backwater of misogynistic Serbia to the all-male university physics and mathematics classrooms of Switzerland was nothing short of meteoric. To my mind, the question of what role she truly played in Albert’s “miracle year” of 1905 became an examination of how Mileva—after pregnancy, exam failure, and marriage—was forced to subsume her academic ambitions and intellect to Albert’s ascent. Her story was, in many ways, the story of many intelligent, educated women whose own aspirations were marginalized in favor of their spouses. I believed it was time that stories such as these were told.
Given the fresh light this story sheds on the famous Albert, readers of The Other Einstein may be curious as to precisely how much of the book is truth and how much is speculation. Whenever possible, in the overarching arc of the story—the dates, the places, the people—I attempted to stay as close to the facts as possible, taking necessary liberties for fictional purposes. As one example of these liberties, Mileva did not begin her residential stint in Zürich at the Engelbrecht Pension but found her way there through her friendships after staying at another pension, and thus, the scene with Mileva and her father meeting the Engelbrechts is entirely fictional, as are many of the early scenes between Mileva and her pension friends, although they could have well happened a bit later in her life. And, of course, there are other instances in which I imagined the details of events about which I knew the barest of facts. In order to make their own assessment about the actual lives of the people depicted in The Other Einstein, I invite readers to peruse the collection of papers and letters by and about Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić that are posted online at the marvelous website http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu.
Certainly, speculation exists in The Other Einstein—the book is, first and foremost, fiction. For example, the exact fate of Lieserl is mysterious, although not for dint of effort; Michele Zackheim wrote a wonderful book called Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl about her protracted hunt for Lieserl, one that yielded no solution. Was Lieserl given up for adoption? It seems to me quite probable that Lieserl died from the scarlet fever that prompted Mileva to race from Zürich to Serbia.
Similarly, the precise nature of Mileva’s contribution to the 1905 theories attributed to Albert is unknown, although no one disputes that, at a minimum, she played the significant part of emotional and intellectual supporter during this critical time. But given how Mileva saw the world and how desperately she must have loved her daughter, isn’t it possible that the loss of Lieserl could have inspired Mileva to create the theory of special relativity? Answering through fiction the seemingly unanswerable questions in Mileva’s life—exploring the “what ifs”—is what makes writing The Other Einstein so interesting to me.
Many books and articles—of the vast library of written material on Albert Einstein, including http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu—assisted me immensely in my research for this book. Of them, I found the following of particular help and inspiration: Albert Einstein/Mileva Marić: The Love Letters, edited by Jürgen Renn and Robert Schulmann; Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance by Dennis Overbye; In Albert’s Shadow: The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife by Milan Popovic; Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson; and Einstein’s Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great Twentieth-Century Women by Andrea Gabor. These are but a few.
The purpose of The Other Einstein is not to diminish Albert Einstein’s contribution to humanity and science but to share the humanity behind his scientific contributions. The Other Einstein aims to tell the story of a brilliant woman whose light has been lost in Albert’s enormous shadow—that of Mileva Marić."