Critique of the chapter on "Mileva Marić Einstein" in Andrea Gabor's 1995 book Einstein's Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great Twentieth-Century Women

 

Allen Esterson

 

Note that this article is not intended to be a conventional review. Instead, I shall first quote in bold type statements made by Andrea Gabor, which will be followed by my comments. Some of these items will be relatively unimportant, but they nevertheless serve to illustrate Gabor's limited knowledge of the relevant literature and her poor grasp of the nature of genuine historical scholarship. (The first items refer to comments in Gabor's Introduction.)

 

Marić… often interceded with [their professors at Zurich Polytechnic] on Einstein's behalf. (p. xiii)

 

There is no documented evidence of any such intercessions. (See below.)

 

For years, the executors of the Einstein estate have sought to suppress details of his personal life, including the love letters exchanged with Marić… (p. xiii)

 

The love letters were not in the hands of the Einstein estate. They were in the possession of the family of Hans Albert Einstein, Einstein's elder son.

 

Most of Einstein's biographers similarly dismiss [Marić's]…role as a pioneer in physics. (p. xiii)

 

There is no documented evidence that Marić made any contributions to physics.

 

Long after she had committed herself to studying physics, for instance, Mileva maintained an abiding interest in psychiatry, regaling Einstein with reports of the latest studies in the field, such as the new experiments in hypnotism, just as he showered her with news of the latest discoveries in physics. (p. 7)

 

Far from "regaling Einstein with reports of the latest studies in the field" of psychiatry, there is a single relevant item in the letters Marić wrote to Einstein, dating from November 1901. In one letter Marić merely reported that she had read the book by Forel that Einstein had sent her. (August Forel was director of the Burghölzli Clinic in Zurich.) In the following letter she wrote a half-paragraph on her views on the subject matter of the book, specifically in regard to hypnotism which she evidently felt was "immoral".[1] This is not to suggest that Marić didn't have a considerable interest in psychology (the half-paragraph in question is considerably more than the sum total of her own ideas on physics that she reported to Einstein in her surviving letters), but Gabor's writing that Marić's comments on psychology were comparable to the flow of ideas on extra-curricular physics that Einstein, in his enthusiasm, felt impelled to impart to his girlfriend in numerous letters bears no relation to the actual facts.

 

Legend has it that the couple met when Einstein asked Maric how she had arrived at the solution to a particular problem – probably in mathematics – for which he himself had not found the answer. (p. 7)

 

Gabor provides no reference for this anecdote, but it can be found in the biography of Marić by the Serbian author Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić,[2] also without any source reference. It seems dubious, given that Einstein entered the Zurich Polytechnic in 1896 with exceptional knowledge and ability for his age in both physics and mathematics.

 

Einstein, who at seventeen was still virtually a boy, must have been somewhat in awe of his unusual female classmate, who was three and a half years his senior. (p. 7)

 

If Gabor had the knowledge of Einstein that should have been a requisite for writing the chapter in question, she would know that from an early age Einstein was remarkably self-assured and was not inclined to be in awe of anyone, including his teachers at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich which he left on his own accord at the age of fifteen.[3] He would hardly have been in awe of one of his classmates, even if she was a few years older than him.

 

Maric told Einstein early in their relationship that she doubted she would ever marry, because although she insisted that "a woman can make a career just like a man," she apparently also believed the two enterprises to be mutually exclusive. (p. 7)

 

Gabor references Trbuhović-Gjurić, where the full quotation can be found.[4] Trbuhović-Gjurić does not give a reference for her much fuller account, which purports to be a verbatim conversation between Einstein and Marić on the subject of marriage. However, an identical account is given in a biography of Einstein by Aylesa Forsee, a writer of books for children.[5] There can be no doubt that this is the source of Trbuhović-Gjurić's account, as she gives virtually word for word (in translation) similar accounts of three other supposed scenarios involving the pair, two of which also give verbatim dialogue from conversations, and they occur in the same chronological order on two successive pages in the respective books. But Forsee's book was written for children; large sections of it consist of an imaginative story woven around biographical events, with dialogue that is clearly invented! Yet Trbuhović-Gjurić reproduced the four reports right down to the verbatim dialogue, despite the fact that it should have been instantly apparent that there was no possible way that these conversations could be genuine. And Gabor, who should also have been suspicious of such detailed verbatim reports of conversations between Einstein and Marić when they were students, uncritically reproduces the gist of one of these conversations as if it provided factual information about Marić! Unfortunately this example is only too characteristic of the scholarly shortcomings of Trbuhović-Gjurić, as I have demonstrated elsewhere.[6] Not without good reason did the Einstein biographer Albrecht Fölsing refer to the fictitious dialogues and the combination of fictional invention and pseudo‑documentation that constitutes much of her book.[7] But it seems that for Gabor, the fact that she read the information in a book suffices for her to reproduce it without caveat. (She cites Trbuhović-Gjurić's deeply flawed biography on some twenty occasions as if it were a serious work of scholarship.)

 

Certainly, the evidence suggests that Maric had good reason to fear her relationship with Einstein. Within a year of her return from her semester in Heidelberg [1897-1898], Mileva would undergo a shocking metamorphosis from a seemingly independent, ambitious, and consummately self-assured young woman to one racked by doubts, disappointments, and resignation. (p. 8)

 

There is no serious evidence to support this claim that Marić underwent a "shocking metamorphosis" at this time. Such evidence as Gabor provides a little later (p. 10) is in relation to anxieties Marić started to experience in regard to some of the subject matter of her diploma course at Zurich Polytechnic. Rather than put this down to the natural difficulties an unexceptional student might find with some course material (notably in some mathematical topics), Gabor is intent on putting the blame, directly or indirectly, on Marić's relationship with Einstein (e.g., p. 8). 

 

[Philipp] Lenard also would become known for his explanation of Brownian motion, a theory that explained the unceasing and irregular motion of minute bodies suspended in liquid and that in turn would help lay the foundation for Einstein's later work on the electron theory of metals. (p. 9)

 

Philipp Lenard did not provide an explanation for Brownian motion.[8] It was Einstein who did so, in his 1905 paper on Brownian motion.

 

 

Following the citing of passages from letters of Marić's and Einstein's dated August/September 1899, just prior to Marić's taking the intermediate diploma examination (one year later than the other students in their group because of the semester she had spent as an auditor at Heidelberg University in 1897-1898), Gabor writes: It turned out that, at least for the moment, Mileva's fears were ill-founded. Despite missing one semester, she passed her first year's examinations, her highest grade 5.5 out of a possible 6. By contrast, Einstein's final grade in physics was 5.25, and he received his only 6 in electrical engineering. (p. 10)

 

The figures given in this paragraph are both confusing and tendentiously misleading, not least because Gabor does not compare like with like. First, there were no "first year's examinations"; presumably Gabor is alluding to the 5.5 physics grade (scale 1-6) that Marić achieved in the Intermediate Diploma exams in 1899, postponed to one year later than her classmates due to the winter semester 1897-1898 she spent at Heidelberg University.(9) (In the corresponding 1898 exams Einstein also obtained 5.5 in physics, and came top of the five candidates with a grade average 5.7. Marić's 5.05 grade average was the lowest for their group.)(10) The 5.25 physics grade "final grade" Gabor provides for Einstein was his end-of-year physics grade for 1897-1898, against which is noted "Graduated" on his Zurich Polytechnic Record and Grade Transcript. By comparison, Marić's corresponding physics grade, not provided by Gabor, was 5. Grades for all topics throughout the four year course were recorded on a final Leaving Certificate to which Gabor is alluding here. Out of nine subjects, Einstein's grades were higher in five, and they were equal in two. The two for which Maric's were higher than Einstein's were Geographical Location and Physics Practical for Beginners. (For the latter Einstein was awarded the lowest grade 1 on account of his poor attendance record, for which he received an official reprimand.)(11)

 

Einstein was, in fact, a mediocre student and one of the few ETH graduates who did nor receive a position as an assistant upon graduation, which made it difficult for him to obtain a job. (p. 12)

 

This is not a balanced summing up of the situation. As recorded above, Einstein actually came top of their group (students of physics and mathematics studying for a teaching diploma) in the intermediate diploma examinations, but in the final two years was more and more inclined to neglect his course material to enable him to concentrate on his own private research. Given such circumstances, his final diploma grade of 4.91 in 1900 was quite creditable. In the four topics tested in the final diploma exams none of his grades was below 5 – it was his heavily weighted dissertation grade of 4.5 that brought the grade average below 5.  The difference between Einstein's grade average and that of the candidate immediately above was only 0.23, and it was 0.54 below the top candidate's, while Marić's grade average was 0.91 below Einstein's. (His failure to obtain a post as assistant in physics was the consequence of the bad personal relationship he had with the professor of physics, Heinrich Weber.)

 

The tendentiousness of Gabor's handling of the respective academic records of Marić' and Einstein is illustrated by her describing the latter's record as "mediocre", while stating that up to the final diploma examinations, Marić's was one of "academic triumph" (p. 15). This is contradicted not only by Marić's only moderate coursework grades in mathematics (all but one exceeded by Einstein), but also by the fact that in the intermediate diploma examinations Einstein's grades were again higher than Marić's in all but one (the other being equal), and that his overall coursework grades exceeded hers in the majority of subjects. (As noted above, in only two subjects were Maric's coursework grades higher than Einstein's, and in the case of one of these he was awarded the lowest grade 1 on account of his skipping classes to follow up his own extra-curricular physics interests.)

 

Maric also had her conflicts with Weber, who served as a thesis adviser to both young people. But her relationship with the professor was much better than Einstein's, who had been the only graduate from his class to be turned down for a post as an assistant. By contrast, Maric held a position in Weber's laboratory in 1901 and received an excellent evaluation for her work, according to Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric, Maric's biographer. Although the ETH [Zurich Polytechnic] has no record of an official appointment with a salary, it is possible that Maric worked in an unofficial capacity without pay. (p. 13)

 

For these contentions Gabor references a letter Einstein wrote to Marić in May 1901 in which he refers to "critical comments" from Professor Weber to her that she had evidently mentioned in a previous letter to Einstein,[12] and Dord Krstić's "Appendix" to a book of reminiscences by Elizabeth Roboz Einstein of her deceased husband, Hans Albert (Einstein's elder son). The first of these relates to Marić's fledgling Ph.D. thesis (soon to be aborted) under the supervision of Weber, and alludes to an occurrence during her final semester at the Polytechnic in 1901 when she was preparing to retake the diploma examination. Gabor's reference to Trbuhovic-Gjuric's reporting an "excellent evaluation" of her work while holding a position in Weber's laboratory is an error, as there is no mention of any such position in the book.

 

It is Krstić who writes that, even though Marić had failed her diploma examinations in 1901, she was asked to work in Weber's laboratory. He adds that "her file at ETH contains evidence of that laboratory work for the summer semester of 1901, together with an excellent mark".[13] However in that semester Marić was working on her diploma dissertation on heat conduction with the intention of developing it into a Ph.D. thesis, while preparing for the diploma examinations she was to retake shortly. Under such circumstances (when she was also only too aware that she was pregnant), it seems very unlikely that she would have taken on an unpaid "position" in Weber's laboratory. It seems likely that Krstić has taken Weber's evaluation of her laboratory work for the 1901 summer semester, after she had completed the normal four-year diploma, as evidence of her working for him, when it was actually in relation to her diploma coursework or her dissertation.

 

What is clear is that Maric tried several times to intercede with Weber on Einstein's behalf – an effort in which she was unsuccessful and one that may have eroded her relationship with the professor. In the summer of 1901, Mileva wrote to her friend Helene Kaufler Savic: "I've already quarreled with Professor Weber two or three times, but now I am already used to such things. Because of him I have suffered a lot… We still do not know what destiny has determined for us [Albert and Mileva]. (p. 13) [Gabor's ellipsis]

 

The references Gabor provides (p. 295) for the above contentions comprise the following. One is a letter of Einstein's dated 23 March 1901 in which he writes in regard to an assistantship under Professor Riecke at the University of Göttingen for which he had applied that he has more or less given up on it. He is convinced that Weber is giving him poor references. Another is to a letter of May 1901 from which she quotes in the above passage, in which Marić writes to her friend Helene Kaufler Savić that she has had disputes with Weber, but has become used to such occurrences. And the third is to a letter from Einstein to Marić in May 1901 in which he asks: "Is old Weber behaving decently, or does he again have ‘critical comments'."[14]

 

None of this shows either that Marić "interceded with Weber on Einstein's behalf" even once, let alone "several times" as Gabor contends, or that the problems Einstein had with Weber had a bad effect on Marić's relationship with the professor. Gabor would have us believe that the disputes with Weber were about Einstein, but there is no evidence that this is the case. Presumably they were to do with "critical comments" from Weber about her diploma dissertation on which she was working; and in a letter to Savić later in 1901 Marić refers to "Weber's concerns" that led to her giving up on her projected Ph.D. thesis, adding: "I have put up with a lot from him and will on no account go back to him."[15] Gabor evidently has taken this characteristically evidence-free story from Trbuhovic-Gjuric,[16] while misleadingly providing references that convey to the reader that there is evidence to support it when in fact there is none.

 

Although the final grades for both Maric and Einstein fell below the 5 point average that was necessary to pass, Einstein's 4.9 got rounded up to 5 so that he just barely squeaked by. Maric's 4, on the other hand, meant that she failed outright; once again she had gotten high marks in physics, but it was a miserable 2.5 average in the Theory of Functions that dragged down her final grade. (pp. 13-14)

 

Gabor provides no reference for her contention that an average grade of 5 was the pass mark for the diploma examination, and that Einstein's grade was "rounded up" to enable him to pass. The source of this claim is the Swiss linguist Senta Troemel-Ploetz, but John Stachel, founding editor of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers project, writes: "I have searched the regulations of the Poly [ETH] in vain for any such rule."[17]

 

The difference between Einstein's grade average in the final diploma exams and that of the candidate immediately above was only 0.23, (it was 0.54 below the top grade average). (By comparison, Marić's grade average was 0.91 below Einstein's.) As already noted, in none of the four specific topics tested in the final diploma exams did Einstein's grade fall below 5 (sc ale 1-6). In addition to his excellent grade average of 5.7 in the intermediate diploma examinations, Einstein had already been marked as "graduated" on the basis of his coursework grades in three topics as recorded on his Polytechnic "Record and Grade Transcript". (Collected Papers, vol. 1, doc. 28.)

 

The statement that Marić had again scored high marks in physics is rather misleading: while she obtained grade 5 in experimental physics, her grade for theoretical physics was a moderate 4.5 (and in astronomy it was only 4). (Collected Papers, vol. 1, doc. 67.)

 

After years of academic triumph, Maric had lost her momentum. (p.14)

 

Gabor writes this in the context of Marić's failure in the final diploma exam in 1900. However, it is not the case that before this her academic record was one of "triumph". As noted above, her grade in the intermediate diploma examination, though good, was the lowest of the six students in their original group. Moreover, while her end-of-semester coursework grades in physics were good, those in mathematical subjects were only moderate, the average being 4.35.  (As noted, Einstein's grades in the four mathematical topics they took in common exceeded Marić's in three, while they were same for the remaining one.)

 

Although scientists and historians have pointed to Maric's failing her exams as proof of her intellectual inferiority, this hardly seems fair or logical, especially in light of the fact that Einstein's own performance at the ETH was relatively poor! Certainly, it is hard to imagine that the girl who had repeatedly distinguished herself as a top student in her native Serbia, who had passed the difficult ETH examination (which Einstein had failed the first time he took it), as well as the first round of university examinations, and who won at least some kudos from the hard-to-please Weber was simply not gifted enough to pass her final test. Robert Schulmann, an Einstein scholar, suggests that because her finals included an oral component, she might have been subject to the prejudice of her examiners. It is even more likely that Mileva's poor performance was due to anxiety brought on by both the discovery of her pregnancy and the actual physical discomforts of her condition, which in Mileva's case continued well past her first trimester. (p. 15)

 

The errors and misconceptions in this characteristically tendentious passage will take a little time to unravel. I'll take them one by one

 

Einstein's own performance at the ETH was relatively poor. As already noted, Einstein's grade in the intermediate diploma exam placed him top of their group. It is true that his yearly coursework grades were unexceptional, as was his final diploma result, but Gabor omits to mention that Einstein increasingly neglected his Polytechnic studies to concentrate on his own private interests in advanced physics, as is amply shown by his letters to Marić at that time. He relied strongly on his friend Marcel Grossman's meticulous notes to revise prior to the final diploma examinations. 

 

Certainly, it is hard to imagine that the girl who had repeatedly distinguished herself as a top student in her native Serbia…

 

Gabor is evidently unable to appreciate that students may excel in high school (Marić's accomplishments in Serbia [and Croatia] came at least two years before she entered Zurich Polytechnic), but find university level work more challenging, as Marić's Polytechnic grades in mathematics demonstrate.

 

Marić…passed the difficult ETH examination (which Einstein had failed the first time he took it),…

 

Gabor omits to mention here that when Einstein took the Polytechnic entry examination in 1895 it was by special dispensation, as he was only sixteen, some two years below the normal age at which the exam was taken, and had been without formal education for some nine months (in Italy where his parents had emigrated). Although he failed the exam in some subjects, his grades in mathematics and physics were so exceptional that the physics professor, Heinrich Weber, invited him to attend his lectures for second-year students, and the Director of the Polytechnic, Albin Herzog, encouraged him to go to the Cantonal School of Aargau in Aarau, Switzerland, at which in the following year he obtained maximum grades in algebra and geometry on his school-leaving diploma.[18] (Contrary to the implication of Gabor's words above, Einstein did not take the entrance examination a second time as by then he had obtained his Matura [allowing entrance to university].) Moreover, it is not the case that Marić passed "the difficult ETH [entrance] examination", as she already had her Matura which she sat at the Zurich University Medical School earlier that year. She was, however, required to take the mathematical component of the entrance exams, and her average grade was a moderate 4.25 (scale 1-6).[19]

 

Given her undistinguished mathematics entrance exam grade, her generally moderate (or worse) coursework grades in mathematical topics (she especially struggled to master geometrical topics),[20] it is not "difficult to imagine" that Marić "was not gifted enough to pass her final test", as Gabor contends. Her very poor grade in the mathematics component of the 1900 final exams (2.5 on scale 1-6), together with her only moderate record in mathematics as a whole, suffices to explain her failure to obtain a teaching diploma.

 

The suggestion that because her final exams contained an oral component Marić might have been "subject to the prejudice of her examiners" is without evidential backing, and is hardly consistent with the fact that she obtained grades close to, or equal in one case, to Einstein's in the other exams (theoretical physics, practical physics and astronomy).[21] (As already noted, Einstein's Polytechnic Record and Grade Transcript indicates that students were able to be "Graduated" in certain topics on the basis of their coursework grades at the end of the semester in which they studied the topic. For instance, Einstein was recorded as "graduated" in analytic geometry, physics, and celestial mechanics before he took his oral final diploma examinations in 1900.)[22]

 

As to Gabor's writing "It is even more likely that Mileva's poor performance was due to anxiety brought on by both the discovery of her pregnancy and the actual physical discomforts of her condition", this could not, of course, have been a factor in Marić's first final diploma exam failure in July 1900, as Marić became pregnant in the spring of 1901.

                                                           

Exactly how much she was to contribute to Einstein's work has become the subject of considerable controversy. Much of the debate revolves around fragmentary evidence suggesting that the original version of Einstein's three most famous articles, on the photoelectric effect, on Brownian motion, and on the theory of relativity, were signed Einstein-Marity, the latter being a Hungarianized version of Maric. Although the original manuscripts have been lost, Abraham F. Joffe, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, claimed that he saw the original [1905] papers when he was an assistant to Wilhelm Röntgen, who belonged to the editorial board of Annalen der Physik, which published the articles. (p. 20)

 

For the source of this report Gabor references Trbuhović-Gjurić's book.[23] However, Joffe did not claim that he saw the original papers in the 1955 memorial article in question, nor that the papers were signed Einstein-Marity.[24] Gabor's account serves to demonstrate how erroneous assertions get recycled as fact as a direct consequence of poor scholarship in a secondary source. Instead of quoting what Joffe wrote, Trbuhović-Gjurić paraphrases it (incorrectly), and follows this by her own evidence-free account of the supposed circumstances that Joffe had seen the original manuscripts in such a way that the reader naturally takes the latter part as also coming from Joffe.

 

John Stachel has meticulously refuted each element of the story in his detailed examination of the claims about Joffe.[25] In addition, Joffe himself has published accounts of his experiences that are inconsistent with every element of the story Gabor recycles above.[26] It is characteristic of her poor scholarship that she reproduces Trbuhović-Gjurić's fanciful story without any caveat. (It is worthy of note that Gabor (p. 295) also cites Highfield and Carter (1993) for the story, giving the impression they endorse it. In fact they dispute the main elements of the story in terms similar to those of Stachel.)[27]

 

Although there is no evidence to suggest that Maric came up with any of the original insights for the three most famous articles attributed to Einstein, she probably proofread the articles and performed the mathematical calculations for some of them. Svetozar Varicak, a student who lived with the Einsteins for several months in about 1910, remembered how Maric, after a day of cleaning, cooking, and caring for the children, would then busy herself with Einstein's mathematical calculations, often working late into the night. Varicak said he remembered feeling "so sorry for Mileva" that he sometimes helped her with the housework. (p. 20)

 

For the Varičak story Gabor references Trbuhović-Gjurić,[28] whose reports about Marić solving Einstein's mathematical problems are highly improbable for more than one reason, in addition to the intrinsic unreliability of accounts obtained by the Serbian biographer many decades after the events in question. But let's look into this specific claim, first in the terms Gabor presents it. She writes that Svetozar Varičak "remembered" that after Marić performed the household tasks she then worked on Einstein's mathematical problems sometimes late into the night, and that he felt so sorry of her that he sometimes helped with the housework. Now in fact Trbuhović-Gjurić writes that it was the daughter of Varičak who recalled having heard her father recount how Einstein from time to time assisted his wife with the chores because she worked even after midnight to solve, from the notes of her husband, mathematical problems.

 

So we have here an (inaccurate) account by Gabor of an account by Trbuhović-Gjurić of a report by Varičak's daughter of something her father supposedly told her several decades before! Even if we didn't have the example from Gabor of how stories change in the recycling, the unreliability of such an account recorded by interested parties and handed on over the years is self-evident. Krstić also records this story, citing Trbuhović-Gjurić as his source, but with him the story has grown further. In addition to doing the household chores, looking after two small children (one only recently born), and at times staying up past midnight solving Einstein's mathematical problems, she also "spent many hours" helping prepare Einstein's lecture notes for his University courses![29] (If there is any element of truth in this report, it may in fact refer to assistance Marić gave Einstein in preparing his University lecture notes, an unwanted time-consuming labour for him.)

 

During the early years of her marriage, Maric also spoke frequently to her family and friends about collaborating with her husband. She told Milana Bota, for instance, about the work she was doing with Einstein. (pp. 20-21)

 

The reference to Milana Bota relates to a passage in Trbuhović-Gjurić's book in which she writes that a journalist for the Belgrade paper Politika published an interview with Bota on 23 May 1929.[30]  Trbuhović-Gjurić provides a quotation from the interview in which Bota says that Marić was involved with the creation of Einstein's theory. (Bota apparently does not say what specific theory.) However, there are a number of caveats. First, there is no credible evidence that Marić had any involvement with the special relativity theory that Einstein arrived at in 1905.[31] Second, Marić had scarcely any contact with Bota after the latter left Bern to get married in March 1900: there are numerous letters that Marić wrote to Helene Savić over the next three decades in which she requests information about Bota, and they seem to have met extremely rarely (on one occasion in Belgrade, around 1926, and again in 1928) and even written contact was very rare.[32] Third, Bota disliked Einstein, whom she had once called "the German whom I hate" in a letter to her mother, and may well have been trying to ingratiate herself with Marić while expressing a lingering resentment against Einstein, as Highfield and Carter suggest.[33] (In a letter to Savić Marić wrote that being interviewed by the journalist "gave pleasure to Milana, and she probably thought that it would give me pleasure, too…")[34] In any case, this was a newspaper interview some twenty years after the purported event, so for Gabor to write that Marić told Bota  about the work she was doing with Einstein misrepresents the nature of the report.

 

Again, the notion that Marić "spoke frequently to her family and friends about collaborating with her husband" is more than a little misleading. First these reports in Trbuhović-Gjurić's book virtually all relate to a visit the Einstein family made to the Marić family at Novi Sad in Serbia in 1905. Second, as already noted, the stories reported are unreliable third-hand rumour and gossip that circulated among the proud folk of Novi Sad, the home town of the Marić family, obtained mostly some sixty years after the event. Third, if Marić was so open about her supposed contributions to Einstein's work, how is it that in her letters to her closest friend Helene Savić she attributes to Einstein the papers she mentions with not the remotest hint that she played any part in them? Nor do her words to Savić in 1901 about Einstein's first dissertation submitted for a Ph.D. suggest they come from someone who collaborated on his work: "I have read this work with great joy and admiration for my little darling, who has such a clever head."[35] Her letters rather indicate her immersion in household affairs and caring for the infant Hans Albert, born in 1904, and concerns about friends she had little opportunity of seeing at that time.

 

And in 1905, just after the completion of "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," the initial paper on special relativity, while the Einstein's were on vacation in Serbia, Maric boasted to her father and Desana Tapavica Bala, who was married to the mayor of Novi Sad: "Just before we left for Novi Sad, we finished some important work that will make my husband world famous." (p. 21)

 

Gabor references Krstić 1991 for this quotation. The source is a "personal verbal communication, Sida Gajin 1955 and also Zarko Marić 1961".[36] It should not have to be spelled out again just how unreliable are such reports, passed on over the years, of a conversation which supposedly occurred some fifty years earlier, reported by interested parties. Who knows what Marić actually said to her father in 1905, whatever tradition has it among the Marić family and friends? The idea that such sources constitute reliable evidence says much about the poor scholarly standards of Krstić (and Trbuhović-Gjurić, who reports the same story).[37]

 

The final severing of intellectual ties between husband and wife probably occurred around 1913, when Einstein began collaborating with Marcel Grossman on the general theory of relativity; the collaboration is particularly noteworthy since, according to Einstein's biographer Peter Michelmore, Maric was "as good as mathematics as Marcel [Grossman]." (p. 25)

 

Gabor references Krstić (1991) for the quotation here, and it is characteristic of her scholarship that instead of consulting Michelmore's book she cites another author quoting from it. The book in question is a popular work containing errors and occasional imaginative scenarios with invented dialogue that disqualify it as a reliable biography. Michelmore's assertion that Marić was as good at mathematics as Grossman does not withstand examination. It is negated by a comparison of their respective grades at intermediate and final diploma examinations: Marić received lower grades than Grossman in every single mathematics topic that they both took for these exams.[38] Moreover, whereas Marić failed her diploma exam, almost certainly because of her very poor mathematics grade, Grossman went on to become a professor of mathematics at Zurich Polytechnic (by then the Swiss Federal Technical University, ETH) at the early age of 29. He also assisted Einstein in the application of highly abstruse mathematics to general relativity theory.

 

Gabor's writing that Einstein's collaboration with Grossman on general relativity theory (actually starting in 1912) is "particularly noteworthy" because Marić was "as good at mathematics as Grossman" can only be meant to suggest that up to the "severing of intellectual ties" around that time he had relied on his wife to help with his mathematics. As already noted, there is not a scrap of sound evidence to support this notion.

 

In Gabor's Introduction to her book she quotes a sentence in one of Einstein's letters to Marić that is frequently cited to supposedly demonstrate that they collaborated on the special relativity theory, published in 1905: "How happy and proud I shall be when the two of us together have brought our work on relative motion to a victorious conclusion." However, while this sentence is frequently selectively quoted without date or context, numerous passages in other letters that are inconsistent with the collaboration thesis are never cited. First, the sentence occurs in a letter written in 1901, some four years before Einstein achieved the epoch-making conceptual innovation that led to his writing the 1905 paper. Second, it is little appreciated that Einstein had fondly hoped to include Marić in his dream of a future life working together on theoretical research in physics.[39] In the letter from which Gabor quotes, the context is one in which Einstein was trying to reassure Marić; the sentence preceding the one in question has no relation to relative motion. It reads: "I assure you that no one here [he was with his family in Milan] would dare, or even want to, say anything bad about you." On the other hand, against this one instance of his using "our" in relation to the electrodynamics of moving bodies, there are half a dozen letters in which Einstein writes explicitly about his ideas: For example:

"I also wrote to Professor Wien in Aachen about my paper on the relative motion of the luminiferous ether against ponderable matter…" (28 September 1899)

"I'm busily at work on an electrodynamics of moving bodies, which promises to be quite a capital piece of work." (17 December 1901)

"I spent all afternoon at [Professor] Kleiner's telling him my ideas about the electrodynamics of moving bodies…" (19 December 1901)

"I want to get down to business now and read what Lorentz and Drude have written about the electrodynamics of moving bodies." (28 December 1901)

And to Marcel Grossman:

"A considerably simpler method of investigating the relative motion of matter relative to luminiferous ether that is based on ordinary interference experiments has just sprung to my mind…" (September 1901)[40]

 

As the historian of Gerald Holton has written in this context: "But careful analysis of the matter by established scholars in the history of physics, including John Stachel, Jürgen Renn, Robert Schulmann, and Abraham Pais, has shown that scientific collaboration between the couple was minimal and one-sided. Einstein's occasional use of the word our was chiefly meant to serve the emotional needs of the moment."[41] (Stachel has provided a comprehensive analysis of Einstein's use of personal pronouns in these letters in the transcript of a talk delivered to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990, published in 2002.)[42] It is also worth pointing out that on a few occasions on which Einstein referred to our work or papers he was alluding to their respective diploma dissertations or Ph.D. theses. In other instances for which collaboration claims have been made, such as in relation to Einstein first publication (on capillarity), Marić explicitly attributes the work solely to Einstein: "Albert wrote a paper in physics that will probably soon be published in Annalen der Physik. You can imagine how proud I am of my darling."[42]

 

In a letter to the New York Times in 1995, in response to a review of Gabor's book, the Einstein specialists, physicist Gerald Holton and historian Robert Schulmann, referred to her "flights of journalistic fantasy".[44] It should be evident from the above that this accurately characterizes much of Gabor's account of the life of Mileva Marić.

 

Postscript

 

Summarising Gabor's chapter, it is evident that she takes as factual anything supporting her contentions merely on the basis that she read it in a book, while making no attempt to research the claims in question more widely. Her tendentious presentation of material has been amply demonstrated above, but a particularly egregious example occurs in the context of Einstein's relationship with his sons after the couple had separated in 1914.

 

Gabor writes (p. 26) that following the separation in 1914, Einstein "waged an escalating battle for the custody of their children", and that he "schemed repeatedly to move his older son, Hans Albert, to Berlin" (p. 26). Her citations for these contentions (not to be found in any major biography of Einstein) is Highfield and Carter (1993, pp. 172, 175-77, 181). As his letters to Marić show, in the years immediately following the separation Einstein was concerned that he had little opportunity to see his sons; Highfield and Carter observe that "It remains remarkable how diligently Einstein strove to keep in contact with his sons during 1915… the years in which his scientific labours reached their fiercest intensity" (p. 173). A few pages later Highfield and Carter write (p. 181): "By the end of 1916, Einstein was talking openly about moving his son to Berlin". For this assertion they cite a letter from Einstein to Michele Besso dated 9 March 1917 in which he states that he increasingly wants to remove the twelve-year-old Hans Albert from school and educate him himself, and eventually enable him to complete his education through private lessons. He goes on to express reservations, namely the fear of depriving his son of necessary contacts with companions of his own age, a deprivation that would certainly not suit him given his tendency to withdraw into himself. Finally he asks Besso's opinion on the matter. Highfield and Carter go on to quote Einstein's writing in another letter to Besso (December 1916) that "There can be absolutely no question that I will take Albert away against Miza's [Mileva's] will." (Albert Einstein/Michele Besso Correspondance 1903-1925, Paris: Hermann, 1972, pp. 60-61.)

 

Now these tentative ideas expressed to a mutual friend of himself and Marić hardly constitutes evidence for the general assertion that Einstein was "talking openly of moving his son to Berlin", and there is nothing in the pages cited by Gabor to justify her claim that from the start of their separation Einstein was "battl[ing] for custody of their children" and "schemed repeatedly" to remove Hans Albert to Berlin. Characteristically, Gabor chooses to base her story on one account rather than investigate other sources, and even then grossly misrepresents the account in question. True, Highfield and Carter present a generally negative portrait of Einstein's personal life, and presumably this is what Gabor has eagerly seized upon. When it comes to Einstein's personality and behaviour in his private life, Highfield and Carter usually manage to find a cynical motivation for whatever course of action he chose to take. Among reviewers of their book, Robert Kanigel noted their inclination to "interpret Einstein's character and personality harshly" (New York Times, 18 September 1994). In David Papineau's view, the authors "try to blacken him'' in relation to his private life to a degree that amounts to "attempts at sensationalism" (Independent, 5 September 1993), and Helmut Rechenberg describes this aspect of their biography as "polemical and fantastical" (Times Higher Education Supplement, 19 December 1997). In her even greater determination to present Einstein's character in a negative light, Gabor has taken their polemical stance rather more than a step further to the point of complete misrepresentation of the facts.

 

July 2007 (amended August 2009, December 2011, September 2012)

 

NOTES (The references refer to the publications listed in the Bibliography below.)

 

1. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 62, 64, 98.

2. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 36; (1991), p. 40.

3. Hoffman (1973), pp. 25-26; Isaacson (2007), pp. 21-22; Fölsing (1997), pp. 26-28, 39.

4. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 41; (1991), p. 47.

5. Forsee (1963), pp. 11-12.

6. Esterson (2006a); Esterson (2006b)

7. Fölsing (1990)

8. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1905/lenard-bio.html

9. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 43; (1991), pp. 49-50.

10. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 42; Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 63; (1991), p. 70.

11.Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 28; Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 43; (1991), pp. 49-50.

12. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 51-52.

13. Krstić (1991), p. 90.

14. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 36-37, 51-52; Collected Papers Vol. 1, docs. 93, 109; Popović (2003), p. 76.

15. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 78; Popović (2003), p. 76.

16. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 109;

16. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 213; (1991), p. 244.

17. Stachel (2002), p. 32.

18. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 19.

19. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 60.

20. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 12.

21. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 67.

22. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 28.

23. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 79; (1991), pp. 111-12.

24. Martínez (2005), pp. 51-52.

25. Stachel (2005), pp. liv-lxxii.

26. Joffe, (1967), pp. 23-24; 92-93.

27. Highfield & Carter (1993), pp. 111-112.

28. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 105; (1991), p. 120.

29. Krstić (2004), pp. 141-142.

30. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), pp. 93-94; (1991), pp. 106-107.

31. Stachel (2002), pp. 33-36.

32. Popović (2003), pp. 75, 82, 89, 95, 106, 112, 113, 123, 127, 129, 134, 135, 138, 140, 147, 152, 157, 158, 160, 162, 163.

33. Highfield & Carter (1993), p. 110.

34. Popović (2003), p. 158.

35. Popović (2003), pp. 70, 79-80, 88.

36. Krstić (1991), pp. 93-94.

37. Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 93; (1991), p. 105.

38. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, docs. 42, 67; Trbuhović-Gjurić (1993), p. 63; (1991), p. 70.

39. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 52.

40. Collected Papers, Vol 1, doc. 122.

41. Holton (1996), pp. 190-91.

42. Stachel (2002), pp. 33-36.

43. Popović (2003), p. 70.

44. Letter, New York Times, 8 October 1995: http://tinyurl.com/l22xd7

 

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Esterson, A. (2006b). Who Did Einstein's Mathematics? A Response to Troemel-Ploetz

Esterson, A. (2007). Critique of Krstić's 1991 "Appendix".

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Michelmore, P. (1963). Einstein: Profile of the Man. Muller: London

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Renn, J. and Schulmann, R. (eds.) (1992). Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić: The Love Letters. Trans. by S. Smith. Princeton University Press.

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