Critique of Dord Krstić’s Mileva & Albert Einstein: Their Love and Scientific Collaboration

 

By Allen Esterson

 

Dord Krstić’s book Mileva & Albert Einstein: Their Love and Scientific Collaboration (Didakta, 2004) is effectively an extension of the Appendix he wrote for Elisabeth Roboz Einstein’s 1971 memoir of her husband Hans Albert Einstein. In that Appendix Krstić’s contentions concerning the alleged collaboration of Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić in Einstein’s scientific work go well beyond the evidence he adduces (some of which is erroneous), as I have documented in my detailed critique.

 

The critique of Krstić’s 1991 “Appendix”, in which I examine the evidence he adduces purporting to show that Marić collaborated on Einstein’s early work, should be read first. As I (and John Stachel) have refuted such claims in articles referenced in my critique, here I shall be mostly focusing on his contention that Marić collaborated with Einstein at a later stage.

 

In the 1991 Appendix Krstić’s contentions were relatively modest, and are summarised in the final section under the sub-heading “Did Mileva Contribute to Albert’s Three Most Significant Papers?” (by which he means the 1905 papers on Brownian Motion, the photoelectric effect, and special relativity). As I demonstrate in the article cited immediately above, his arguments in favour of this contention are extremely weak. Equally weak are his more tentative claims in that section (1991, p. 98) purportedly indicating that Marić contributed to Einstein’s later work:

 

It is unlikely that her contribution to Albert Einstein’s work will ever be determined precisely. However, if we keep in mind that “she was as good at mathematics as Marcel (Grossman),” we may suppose her part was not small. (Michelmore 1962, 35)

 

Now the quotation from Michelmore (1962) that purportedly supports Krstić’s argument is not only evidence-free, it is grossly in error.[1] The quoting of such a statement as if it constituted hard evidence is characteristic of the calibre of the material adduced by Krstić both in the 1991 Appendix and, as we shall see, in his 2004 book. In the latter he takes his post-1905 claims much further, citing no less than 24 article published by Einstein from 1901 through 1910 as written in collaboration with Marić, with a further 5 articles from 1911-1912 “for which Mileva’s collaboration are uncertain” against which he places a question mark.[2]

 

Krstić’s claims of collaboration post-1905

 

In the Preface Krstić writes that in this book (2004) he “presents some new arguments, documents and a number of statements about Mileva and Albert’s intensive joint scientific work during the period 1898-1913, especially from the beginning of 1898 until the spring of 1912.” However, as we shall see repeatedly, Krstić shows no interest in evidence that contradicts his thesis, and seeks only material that purportedly lends it support. For instance, Krstić ignores the total absence of any indication in Marić’s letters to her close friend Helene Kaufler Savić that she is working on physics, or indeed that she any longer (after her marriage) has any intense interest in the subject. His claim that Marić collaborated with Einstein up to 1912 is inconsistent with Marić’s complaint to Helene in the winter 1909/1910: “[Albert] is working very much, and he has published a great deal… Last September he gave a lecture to the gathering of German physicists and physicians in Salzberg. You see, with that kind of fame he does not have much time left for his wife. I read between the lines a certain impish tone when you wrote that I must be jealous of science. But what can you do? One gets the pearl, another the box…[…] You see, I long for love, and I would so rejoice if I could hear an affirmative reply that I almost believe it is the fault of the damned science…”. And again, in 1912: “My big Albert [distinguished from their boy Hans Albert] has become a famous physicist who is highly esteemed by the professionals enthusing about him. He is tirelessly working on his problems; one can say he lives only for them. I must confess with a bit of shame that we are unimportant to him and take second place.”[3]

 

Such comments would make no sense if, as Krstić claims, three papers Einstein published in the years 1910-1912 were written in collaboration with Marić, with another five on which Marić “probably” collaborated.

 

In this same passage Krstić writes: “For the first time, one page of scientific text in Mileva’s handwriting is added to the evidence. This is the first page of the notes regarding analytical mechanics for Albert’s physics lectures at Zurich University in the academic year 1909/1910.”

 

Now the information is not in itself new evidence. Volume 3 of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers reports the existence of “seven pages of notes in Mileva Einstein Marić’s handwriting, containing material very closely corresponding to the introductory sections of [Einstein’s] first notebook, followed by an eighth page with a drawing of three intersecting circles, also in Einstein-Marić’s hand.”[4] An examination of the corresponding pages in Einstein’s notes shows that they consist of notes on elementary mechanics for his “Introductory Course on Mechanics” at Zurich University.[5] The new evidence provided by Kristic (p. 143) is a photocopy of the first page of the notes in Marić’s handwriting (from the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University Jerusalem). This confirms the statement in the Collected Papers that the notes in Marić’s handwriting follow closely those in Einstein’s own notebook, and that they contain introductory ideas on elementary mechanics. Now here is how Krstić describe these notes (p. 15): “These notes in Mileva’s handwriting are not at all ordinary copies; on the contrary, they are evidence of her creative process.”

 

Now this statement is the sheerest nonsense. The notes are at an academic level that a competent physics undergraduate could have produced. Later in the book, in the section in which he reproduces the first page of Marić’s notes, Krstić goes even further: “These notes from analytic mechanics are historic, and they prove that at the time Mileva was active in the study of physics and that she scientifically collaborated with Albert.”

 

Nothing could illustrate better Krstić’s propensity to make grossly inflated claims. These notes demonstrate nothing more than that at a time when Einstein had to prepare lecture notes for his new courses at Zurich University (on top of the work he was doing on his own research), Marić provided some limited assistance in their preparation. The academic level is elementary, and the claim that they “prove” that Marić “scientifically collaborated with Albert” in his ongoing research is absurd.

 

In support of his thesis Krstić later reiterates (p. 144): “It’s important to emphasize that these notes in Mileva’s handwriting are not at all ordinary copies of Albert’s text. On the contrary they are evidence of her creative process and knowledge, for the corrections on all seven pages are in her handwriting.” No doubt this sounds impressive to a reader ignorant of the subject matter of the notes. But it must be emphasized that the material in the notes is elementary mechanics at an academic level Marić would have covered in her studies at Zurich Polytechnic during 1896-1900 for a diploma to teach physics and mathematics at secondary school (which she failed to obtain). It is ridiculous for Krstić to suggest that they provide evidence of her “creative process” and of “knowledge” beyond elementary physics. One has only to examine the elevated level of the physics in the numerous letters that Einstein was exchanging with other physicists in this same period to appreciate that Krstić’s contentions should not be taken seriously.

 

Krstić goes on to claim (p. 144) that “Mileva’s active intellectual collaboration with Albert is confirmed in Mileva’s letter to her friend Helene, in which she wrote:

…My husband is well; he works a lot, and gives his lectures, which are well attended and popular; in addition he has a lot of lectures open to all, in which I regularly participate and listen. Since we also often play music at home, we are lacking the time which could be spent together in solitude and reflection. (Popović, 1998, pp. 224-226)

 

The translation of the significant sentence here in the English translation (2003) of Popović’s 1998 book is slightly different:

 

My husband…works a lot and gives his lectures, which are very well attended and liked, as well as many public lectures, which I never miss hearing.”[6]

 

Krstić’s claim that such comments “confirm” Marić’s “intellectual collaboration” with Einstein, i.e., her collaboration on advanced physics, is another illustration that his contentions go far beyond the evidence he adduces. He also ignores the fact that this two page letter, as is the case with every surviving letter she wrote to Helene, is full of personal matters, and contain not the slightest indication that she was working on any topics in physics, or collaborating with Einstein on his researches.

 

In the same passage in his Preface Krstić also writes (p. 15): “There is another scientific manuscript in Mileva’s handwriting; the unsigned answer to Max Planck’s paper about infrared radiation published at the beginning of 1910.” The two-page document in question is a response to a draft paper of Planck’s in which, as reported in the Collected Papers, he argues that “it is unnecessary to introduce the assumption of a discontinuity for the treatment of the electromagnetic radiation in a vacuum, but that this assumption should be limited to the treatment of the interaction between elementary oscillators and radiation”.[7] Of the documents in Marić’s handwriting Krstić later writes (p. 149): “It is very significant that the Einstein answer is in Mileva’s handwriting. It is more than symbolic; it proves Mileva’s active and important role in Albert’s scientific work.”

 

At the end of Krstić’s book the physics historian Stanislav Južnič provides a commentary on the document in question in Appendix C (pp. 236-244). He notes (p. 240) in connection with the ideas in Planck’s draft paper that letters to Michele Besso dated 17 November and December 31 1909 indicate that Einstein was working on ideas relating to light quanta (including on the compatibility of his ideas with Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations).[8]

 

Južnič provides the following details about the document in Marić’s handwriting:

 

Mileva crossed out several mistakes, but left some unnoticed errors. The manuscript was probably a dictated first draft, which was later corrected and mailed to Planck. Among other errors, the addressee was written as ‘Plank’. It seems almost impossible to imagine Einstein sending to the imminent [sic] Planck a letter with such a huge error, almost an insult. Mileva’s spelling of the last name was not unusual, because Josef Plank was a former assistant of Josef Stefan in Vienna.

 

Einstein criticized the 6th page of Planck’s manuscript. Mileva crossed out the letter ‘d’, probably as the beginning of the wrongly used indefinite article between the words ‘Zahl’ and ‘quantenhaftger’. She crossed out the word ‘kann’ and replaced it with ‘müsse’ (must) at the very end of the letter, with no period to finish the sentence with…

 

In the middle of the letter, Mileva crossed out the word ‘besteht’ and replaced it with the more defined ‘lässt’ for Einstein’s and Hopf’s (1884-1939) new theory of radiation.

 

As Južnič indicates, the document in Marić’s handwriting bears all the hallmarks of a “dictated first draft” of Einstein’s response to Planck’s draft paper. In other words, it is very possible that it is a first draft dictated to Marić by Einstein. As Južnič observes, the misspelling of Planck’s name is rather extraordinary (“a huge error”). The above passage makes clear that Južnič sees the response as Einstein’s, as is also implicit in his remarks on the response that follow the above description of the draft letter. This is again in evidence in Južnič’s more detailed comments under the sub-heading “Planck’s 1910 Paper” (pp. 242-244), in which he writes, e.g., that “Einstein’s answer focused on the 6th page of Planck’s early draft” (emphasis added), followed by remarks about Einstein’s position vis-á-vis Planck and Maxwell.

 

In a letter to his friend Jacob Laub in 1908 Einstein wrote:

 

I am ceaselessly occupied with the question of the constitution of radiation and am in correspondence on this question with H. A. Lorentz and Planck…Planck is also very pleasant in the correspondence. He has, however, one fault; that he is clumsy in finding his way about in foreign trains of thought. It is therefore understandable when he makes quite faulty objections to my latest work on radiation…This quantum question is so incredibly important and difficult that everyone should busy themselves on it. I have already succeeded in working out something which may be related to it but I have serious reasons for still thinking it is rubbish.[9]

 

As Južnič writes (above), the draft letter in response to Planck’s draft manuscript criticizes page 6 of the manuscript. It is evident that the contents of the letter are a continuation of Einstein’s critical view of Planck’s position on quanta and radiation. An examination of the passages in question shows that only someone totally immersed in the subject such as Einstein could possibly have authored the letter.[10] Conversely, it is inconceivable that Marić could have authored such a letter.

 

We have seen that Krstić claims that this document “proves Mileva’s active and important role in Albert’s scientific work”. As Južnič’s commentary shows, it does nothing of the sort. The background historical facts are that Marić twice failed the Zurich Polytechnic examinations (1900 and 1901) for a diploma for teaching mathematics in secondary school. After she had given up her attempts to obtain these academic qualifications there is no reliable indication that she maintained an active involvement with research in physics. There is not a single document containing Marić’s ideas on physics, in contrast to the mass of documentary evidence of the prodigious research in which Einstein was involved during the years up to 1912 (the period during which Krstić alleges they collaborated), including numerous letters to eminent physicists in which ideas are exchanged.[11] Nowhere in her letters to her close friend Helene Kaufler Savić is there the remotest hint that she has been working on any research in physics, nor is there any suggestion in the memoirs of friends and colleagues of Einstein who visited the couple and wrote of this period that she was collaborating with him on his work. Of the early period of their marriage Philippe Frank wrote: “When he wanted to discuss his ideas, which came to him in great abundance, her response was so slight that he was unable to decide whether or not she was interested.”[12] No doubt Frank obtained this information directly from Einstein. It is entirely consistent with the contents of Marić’s letters to Helene, which report personal matters in considerable detail, while providing not the least indication of any engagement with work on physics. Had she been so engaged, what possible motive would Marić have for hiding this from her closest friend? On the contrary, she would have wanted to convey the excitement of her researches, as is evident in so many of the letters of Einstein’s to his friends in which he writes of his current work. In short, the notion that Marić would have had the knowledge (and competence) to engage with the level of physics in the draft letter to Planck flies in the face of all the evidence we have concerning Marić’s capabilities and her withdrawal from direct scientific activities after she gave up her attempts to obtain a teaching diploma at Zurich Polytechnic.

 

Krstić’s “Appendix B” has the title “Einstein’s Articles Probably Written in Collaboration with Mileva” (p. 221). Appended to the title is a note in which he writes:

 

The articles, for which Mileva’s collaboration are uncertain, have by the number of the article a question mark (?). Not included in the list are the articles that Mileva did not collaborate on, nor the ones for which her collaboration is less probable…

 

There are eight articles listed from 1901 up to and including the celebrated 1905 papers, and a further sixteen from 1906 to 1910, all without a question mark. (Five papers published in 1911-12 are cited with a question mark.) Nowhere in the book does Krstić provide documented evidence for these contentions, and nor does he justify the inclusion of the papers listed, while omitting others on the ground that the alleged collaboration was “less probable”. In short, the list is devoid of serious scholarly validation, and amounts to nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking on a grand scale.

 

Krstić’s claims of early collaboration

 

In his Preface, Krstić purports to be presenting the evidence objectively, independently of his personal opinions:

 

In this book, my personal opinions (or that of others) are noted, as they are to be distinguished from the rest of the documented text. The entire correspondence, especially the letters between Mileva and Albert, personal recollections and statements, are published and interpreted in the way they were written and told. (p. 11)

 

He immediately gives by way of example, “when the sentence refers to the plural (as opposed to the singular) with the emphasis on collaborative work. This means, that if for instance Albert wrote in a letter of ‘our paper’, it is taken as a matter of fact: that this paper is not only his or her paper, but their joint paper, created in collaboration.”

 

Now what is interesting about this statement is what it omits, namely, that Krstić does not say that when Einstein writes about “my” paper he takes it that the paper is by Einstein, or that when Marić writes of “his” [Einstein’s] paper he takes it again that the paper is by Einstein. This immediately calls into question Krstić’s claim that the documentary evidence he provides is independent of his personal opinions.

 

The first point to note is that the occasional use of the word “our” by Einstein to which Krstić is alluding occurs only in letters in the early period of the relationship between the pair, during their student years and just beyond (and in fact only occurs in the years 1900-1901). Sometimes this applies to work they are doing relating to their Zurich Polytechnic diploma dissertations, for which they each chose topics in thermal conduction. More rarely, Einstein uses the inclusive “we” or “our” in relation to his extra-curricular interests, i.e., his own research. Given that all the comments and ideas in relation to this research come in Einstein’s letters, and none whatever from Marić, and that far more often Einstein alludes to his ideas or work on the subject, it is overwhelmingly likely that his use of the inclusive “our” is evidence of his desire in this period, when he was deeply emotionally involved with Marić, to draw her into his interests rather than that she made any substantive contribution to that work. A case in point is his much-cited use of “our” in connection with his research on motion relative to the ether. As early as 1895, when he was only sixteen, he had written an article on the state of the ether in a magnetic field,[13] and in a letter to Marić in August 1899 had expressed his views about some ideas on moving bodies and the ether.[14] In the letter of 10 September 1899 he again alludes to ideas he has on this subject, adding: “But enough of this! Your poor little head is already crammed full of other people’s hobby horses that you’ve had to ride.”[15] This is a clear indication that the interest in motion relative to the ether is his, and not Marić’s, as is further demonstrated by Einstein’s comments in subsequent letters:

 

“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…” [17 December 1901]

 

“I spent all afternoon at Kleiner’s in Zurich telling him about my ideas about the electrodynamics of moving bodies…” [19 December 1901][16]

 

Against this is the sentence in a letter Einstein wrote on 27 March 1901: “I’ll be so happy and proud when we are together and can bring our work on relative motion to a successful conclusion.”[17] However this inclusive use of the word “our” is in a general context, in contrast to the half-dozen separate occasions on which he alludes to specific ideas he has, or work he is doing on the subject.[18] Equally significantly, Marić herself never mentions any work on extra-curricular material in which she is interested. And this leaves aside that these letters are from a time several years before Einstein’s completion of the celebrated 1905 special relativity paper, for which there is not a scrap of documentable evidence of any input by Marić.

 

The way that Krstić uses the fact that Einstein several times alluded to ideas he was working on in connection with the topic of motion relative to the ether in letters to Marić in this period is exemplified by his citing Einstein’s later writing that he worked on the subject for a period of over seven years leading up to the 1905 special relativity paper: “This period is from the time of Mileva’s arrival back in Zurich from Germany [Heidelberg, 1898], up until the year 1905, when he published his revolutionary paper. This entire time Einstein was collaborating on his work with Mileva.”(p. 47). The fact that all the discussion of the subject came from Einstein, that Marić never once alluded to it in her letters to Einstein (or anywhere else), and that there is no credible documentary evidence of her making any contribution to the 1905 paper, is evidently of no consequence for Krstić.

 

[Note: A comprehensive examination of the claims relating to the use of the words “our work” in one letter by Einstein in connection with relative motion on which so much emphasis has been placed is to be found in a talk delivered by John Stachel in 1990, reprinted in Stachel (2002), pp. 33-36: http://www.esterson.org/Stachel_Einsteins_letters.htm ]

 

Again, on the basis of the fact that Einstein refers to “our paper” in relation to an article on capillarity he published in 1901, Krstić contends that this was “the couple’s first joint paper” (p. 60).  He alludes to his previous reference (p. 50) to the fact that in the summer semester of Einstein’s final year at Zurich Polytechnic (1900) one of the mathematics professors, Minkowski, gave a course on the use of analytical mechanics which included a lecture on capillarity, a topic on which the latter was writing an article. Krstić then writes: “During the summer they were still inspired by those lectures. Albert and Mileva met again in Zurich on the 16th of October, and until they sent the paper, thus nearly two months, they jointly worked on it.” It is characteristic of Krstić that he provides no evidence for these assertions: the book is written on the premise that Marić collaborated with Einstein on most of his early work and Krstić simply fills in the biographical details from his imagination.

 

The documentable facts about Einstein’s 1901 capillarity paper (his first publication) are as follows:

 

On 3 October 1900 Einstein wrote from Milan (the home of his parents): “I’m rather well versed in physical chemistry now. […] The results on capillarity I recently obtained in Zurich seem to be entirely new despite their simplicity. When we’re back in Zurich we’ll try to get some empirical data on this subject from Kleiner. If this yields a law of nature, we’ll send the results to Widermann’s Annalen [der Physik].”[19] (The article eventually written is dated 13 December 1900.)

 

The question is whether Einstein’s use of the collective “we” in this letter indicates substantive collaboration on the work between the couple, or is an instance of Einstein’s trying to draw Marić into his world of extra-curricular physics. The actual results alluded to by Einstein he unambiguously attributes to himself, and as they had been separated since the end of their exams in July there would have been no opportunity for joint work. He writes “we’ll” try to get some empirical data from Kleiner [Prof Alfred Kleiner, at the University of Zurich], but in fact it is he who is in communication with Kleiner.[20] The other relevant documents from this period are letters that Marić wrote to her friend Helene, the first from later that month (October 1900) just after Einstein and Marić were both back in Zurich. She writes: “For the time being I am studying at home with Albert; next week we begin laboratory work.”[21] What she is referring to here is the experimental work Einstein was doing for his first attempt at a Ph.D. thesis (unrelated to his personal interests in physics topics), and her own work for her diploma dissertation (required for the examination she would retake the following year), which she hoped to extend to a Ph.D. thesis. Both were investigating heat conduction, so there was overlap between their researches in this area. (Einstein refers to their research on heat conduction, with an allusion to Professor Weber’s laboratory at the Polytechnic, in a letter written to Marić around the beginning of September 1900.) Evidently this is what she is referring to when she writes of her “studying at home with Albert”, followed immediately by a reference to their laboratory work.

 

The second relevant document is a letter from Marić to Helene dated 11 December 1900 which is full of personal material, and contains not the least suggestion that she had undertaken any joint work with Einstein recently.[25] The final piece of evidence comes in a letter Marić wrote to Helene on 20 December 1900. Again there is no hint of her having worked on the paper with Einstein. On the contrary, she writes, “Albert wrote a paper in physics that will probably soon be published in the Annalen der Physik.”[22] Is it really conceivable that had Marić collaborated on the paper she would not so much as hinted as much to her closest friend. My view is that this is unlikely in the extreme. In the following sentence in this letter Marić writes: “You can imagine how proud I am of my darling.” These are not the words of someone who collaborated on the paper to which she is referring. Given also that the only information we have about actual research done for the paper refers exclusively to what Einstein wrote he had obtained, I conclude that the inclusive “we” in the letter of 3 October indicates no more than that Einstein was trying to draw Marić into his exciting world of research on fundamental notions in physics, as is evident in many of his letters from their student days.

 

This does not exclude the possibility that Marić assisted Einstein in looking up data, but there is no hard evidence that she collaborated with him on the paper, and what she wrote in her letter to Helene on 20 December 1900 strongly suggests that she did not.

 

It is also worth recording that in April 1901 Einstein wrote to his friend Marcel Grossman, “As for science I have a few splendid ideas”, including that “my theory of atomic attraction forces [i.e., relating to his capillarity paper] can also be extended to gases…” (emphasis added)[23]

 

In this context it should be noted that Krstić confuses the issue by treating together (pp. 56-61) references to joint study by Einstein and Marić on their Zurich Polytechnic course work and on extra-curricular books that Einstein was interested in pursuing, and work relating to their Polytechnic dissertations (which were on closely related topics in heat conduction), with references to subject matter which pertained to papers later published by Einstein. Thereby he creates an impression of collaborative work on Einstein’s extra-curricular interests for which there is no documented validation, and extrapolates from this to imaginative scenarios that extend far beyond any reliable evidence.

 

It is worth noting here further examples of Krstić’s propensity to interpret documents tendentiously to purportedly support his collaboration thesis in his translations of two passages in letters written by Einstein in September 1900, shortly after Marić’s first diploma exam failure:

 

In the middle of September 1900, Albert wrote to Mileva in Kać: [ref. omitted] “…I am also looking forward with great joy to our new joint work. You must now continue with your investigation – how proud I will be when maybe I’ll have a little doctor for a sweetheart while me still being just an ordinary man!”… About a week later, he added in connection with their partnership in life: [ref. omitted] “Beautiful collaborative work – and also we both are now our own bosses & standing on our own feet & and fully enjoying our youth...” (p. 57)

 

Twice in this passage Krstić has Einstein writing of joint work or collaboration. However in each case he has embellished the passage in question. In the first letter from which Krstić quotes Einstein actually wrote:

 

Ich freu mich auch sehr auf unsere neuen Arbeiten. Du muβt jetzt Deine Untersuchung fortsetzen – wie stolz werd ich sein, wenn ich gar vielleicht ein kleines Dokterlin zum Schatz hab & selbst noch ein ganz gewöhnlicher Mensch bin![24]

 

In his translation of the first sentence Krstić has tendentiously interpolated the word “joint”. The Collected Papers more accurately translates these words as follows: “I am also looking forward very much to our new studies…”[25] As the words which follow indicate, the studies of Marić’s that he has in mind relate to her dissertation which she still hoped to use as the basis for a Ph.D. thesis, not to joint research on extracurricular ideas that he himself was working on.

 

Again, in his translation from the second of Einstein’s letters from which he quotes Krstić writes: “Beautiful collaborative work – …” However, Einstein actually wrote the following: “Schöne Arbeit und beisammen …”,[26] which is more accurately translated as “Beautiful work and being together”. (Renn and Schulmann translate the phrase as “Pleasant work and being together – …”)[27]

 

Hearsay evidence and other material presented by Krstić

 

Krstić makes much use of hearsay evidence, but unfortunately shows no indication of critical evaluation of the reliability of the material he provides. For instance, he quotes (p. 43) a passage from Peter Michelmore’s Profile of Einstein in relation to his friend Marcel Grossman about their time at Zurich Polytechnic the crux of which is as follows:

 

…Grossman took detailed notes at all lectures and drummed them into Einstein on the weekends… His other close friend was Mileva Marić… She was as good at mathematics as Marcel and she too helped in the weekend coaching sessions… She tried to bring a sense of order into Albert’s life, too. The mathematics instruction was only part of it… [28]

 

Most of this is completely at variance with what we know from more reliable sources. Nowhere else does anyone report that Grossman worked with Einstein “on the weekends” on mathematics lectures that he had skipped, let alone “drummed them” into him. On the contrary, Einstein writes that it was only in the period immediately prior to diploma examinations that he made use of Grossman’s meticulous notes, and he makes no mention of any “coaching” or “instruction”.[29] Similarly, the notion that Marić took part in any “mathematics instruction” to assist Einstein is without foundation. The claim that she was as good at mathematics as Grossman does not bear examination. A comparison of their respective grades in the mathematical components of the intermediate and final diploma examinations shows that she obtained lower grades in every single one that they took in common.[30] Moreover she badly failed the mathematics component of the final diploma examination (achieving only grade 5 on a scale 1-12), whereas Grossman went on to become a professor of mathematics at Zurich Polytechnic at the early age of 29. He also assisted Einstein in the application of highly abstruse mathematics to general relativity theory.

 

Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that in this section of his book (p. 44) Krstić cites a 1929 Belgrade journalist quoting the husband (Svetislav Stevanović) of one of Marić’s friends saying about their socialising with Einstein and Marić in their student days: “I talked to him a lot about Boltzmann, the great Austrian physicist, for Albert was very interested in his work.” If Marić was playing the role in Einstein’s interests that Krstić claims, why did Stevanović not report that he talked to the couple about Boltzmann, rather than just Einstein?

 

In this chapter of his book Krstić quotes a few comments by Einstein in letters to Marić purportedly showing joint work on ideas relating to extra-curricular interests in physics that Einstein was engaging with. What he doesn’t report is that all the discussion of such physics topics comes from Einstein, and not a single one from Marić.[31]

 

It is instructive to note (p. 52) how Krstić deals with the fact that Marić obtained an extremely poor grade in the mathematics component (theory of functions) of the final diploma examinations. He observes that her poor mathematics grade was the primary reason for her low average grade, “and the only reason she did not receive a diploma”. He then suggests that

 

the reason for Mileva’s low mark [in mathematics] was not because of Mileva’s ignorance or inferiority, but rather the uneasiness of the commission [of examiners] to give a diploma in physics to a woman in the Section VI A of Polytechnic, in spite of the fact that they gave a diploma in mathematics to a woman a few years earlier.

 

Not only does Krstić provide not a scrap of evidence of the examiners’ supposed “unease” about awarding a teaching diploma to a woman in the section specialising in physics (rather than mathematics, as in Section VI B), his suggestion makes little sense. If there was unease about awarding a diploma on the grounds he suggests, how was it that Marić gained good grades in the physics components of the examinations, but not mathematics. Is he suggesting that the examiners deliberately awarded a low grade in mathematics to ensure Marić failed to gain an overall average sufficient for a diploma to be awarded her? And why should examiners supposedly prejudiced against women nevertheless be willing to grant a diploma in mathematics to a woman on an earlier occasion? The whole passage gives the impression of Krstić’s clutching at straws to explain away not only Marić’s failing the diploma exam, but also the very poor grade she obtained in mathematics. The latter in particular (which she scarcely improved upon when she failed the diploma exam for a second time the following year) is difficult to reconcile with the grandiose claims for Marić that Krstić goes on to make concerning her alleged role in Einstein’s groundbreaking work in physics in the years that followed.

 

Krstić concludes (p. 52) the chapter in question by noting: “For the entire duration of the four years at the Polytechnic, Albert’s average was 4.6, and Mileva’s was a slightly higher average of 4.7. Albert received a diploma and Mileva did not.”

 

This is obviously intended to indicate to readers that Marić’s achievements at the Polytechnic show that she was the academic equal of Einstein. However, Krstić fails to point out the following. The end-of-semester grades he cites are for their coursework, and Einstein’s average was brought below Marić’s by his being awarded the lowest grade 1 (scale 1-6) in practical physics by Prof. Pernet in 1898-1899 on account of the fact that he refused to attend classes on the grounds that those given by this particular professor were of no value to him.[32] Moreover, in his final two years Einstein did not conscientiously study course material as he was too engrossed with following up his own interests in physics, even to the extent of skipping classes on occasion. It is therefore unsurprising that his coursework grades were only moderate. Nevertheless, a closer examination of their respective grades as recorded on the final Leaving Certificate reveals that out of nine subjects they took in common 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. As indicated above, in the latter subject Einstein was awarded the lowest grade 1 on account of his poor attendance record, for which he received an official reprimand.) Again, if we examine their respective examination scores (intermediate and final) we find that for the ten grades, Einstein scored higher than Marić in eight of them, and in the other two their grades were equal.[33]

 

Krstić tries to create the impression of Marić’s deep involvement with Einstein’s research in the years following their time at Zurich Polytechnic, but only does so by undocumented inference. For instance it is evident that Marić was peripheral to the so-called “Olympia Academy” inaugurated by Einstein and his friends Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht in 1902, before she settled in Bern, but Krstić (pp. 88, 89, 97-98) is intent to suggest her full involvement. Krstić notes that Solovine recalled later that Marić “listened attentively but never intervened in our discussions”[34] With no evidence to support it, Krstić writes (p. 97) that she was not ‘elected’ into the Academy on the grounds of her “being a woman”. With similar lack of evidence, he endorses the notion that she “preferred to discuss the issues with Albert afterwards, when they were alone together”. Allowing his imagination full rein, he goes on to claim (p. 101) that together “Mileva and Albert formulated the basis of quantum theory with the definition of light quanta”, though there is not a scrap of evidence of Marić’s having any ideas on the subject.

 

More imaginative scenarios follow. According to Krstić (p. 101) the couple “devoted their evenings almost exclusively to working together on their scientific research”. Again (p. 105), “While Albert was at the Federal Patent Office, Mileva took care of the baby and the house, and she worked on science at home.” (One wonders why Marić somehow never got around to mentioning all this work on physics in any of her surviving letters to her close friend Helene Kaufler Savić.)[35]

 

The source of the evidence for these scenarios is given in footnote 234 (p. 105), in which Krstić cites the names of two individuals acquainted with the Marić family from whom he obtained statements in 1955 and 1961 respectively. It is worth considering in general terms the value of such indirect information obtained from interested parties fifty years or more after the events they purport to depict. Trbuhović-Gjurić quotes one such acquaintance as follows:

 

We raised our eyes towards Mileva as to a divinity, such was her knowledge of mathematics and her genius… Straightforward mathematical problems she solved in her head, and those which would have taken specialists several weeks of work she completed in two days… We knew that she had made [Albert], that she was the creator of his glory. She solved for him all his mathematical problems, particularly those concerning the theory of relativity. Her brilliance as a mathematician amazed us.[36]

 

Another statement by an acquaintance of the Marić family is quoted by Michele Zackheim as follows:

 

I remember the stories about her, because he was the most famous man in the world – and of course my family took great pride in her company. We also understood that she helped the professor with his theory. Did you know that Mileva was better in mathematics than her husband? No one can stand to give Mileva her due… Everyone is protecting the great man, the Einstein.[37]

 

What these illustrate is that among acquaintances of the Marić family rumour and gossip about ‘their’ Mileva was rife. It should be evident that such ‘evidence’ is of little value in establishing reliable facts about Marić’s supposed contributions to Einstein’s scientific work.

 

The evidence about the Einsteins’ supposedly working together on advanced physics as mentioned above is claimed to originate from Miloš Marić, Mileva’s brother, who apparently visited the Einsteins in 1905. Krstić (pp. 104, 216) creates the impression that the stay was a lengthy one, but the only information he supplies is the existence of a letter Miloš wrote to a Professor Ostojić in Novi Sad (the hometown of the Marić family) from the Einsteins’ address in Bern dated 30 January 1905. There is no mention of Miloš’s staying with the Einsteins in 1905 in the books written by Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić and Michele Zackheim, in which such a stay would have been expected to have been noted. (Zackheim merely mentions that Miloš sent Mileva a postal coupon in April 1905.[38]) In the absence of any indication of Miloš’ staying with the Einsteins in any other source, it seems most likely that it was nothing more than a passing visit. 

 

According to Krstić (p. 216), the report of the Einsteins’ working together on physics was communicated by Miloš to his parents, and the “echo of his narration” reached Krstić through talks with acquaintances of the Marić family in 1955 and 1961. In other words, what he is reporting are third or fourth-hand stories provided some half-century later, the reliability of which it is impossible to ascertain. Given the complete lack of hard evidence that Mileva Marić maintained an active interest in physics after her marriage and the birth in May 1904 of Hans Albert (who stated that after her marriage his mother “gave up practically all her [scientific] ambitions”[39]), the claims recycled by Krstić about the Einsteins supposedly working together on his theories must be regarded as no more that examples of the rumour and gossip that passes down the generations in Novi Sad.

 

(I have dealt elsewhere with other third-hand claims from sources linked to the Marić family cited by Krstić. [40])

 

In a section on the origins of the special relativity theory, Krstić notes (p. 113) that in the 1905 paper Einstein acknowledged that suggestions made by Besso that had assisted in the development of his ideas, and then writes somewhat oddly: “It was completely acceptable for Albert to not thank Mileva, whose contribution was also considerable.” It would certainly not have been acceptable for Einstein not to have acknowledged Marić had she made any contribution to his work comparable to Besso’s. However, as throughout his book, Krstić is unable to provide a single example of specific ideas that he claims she contributed to Einstein’s theories.

 

The claim that the Soviet physicist Abram Joffe (in a memorial article, published 1955) indicated that Marić co-authored the three most celebrated of Einstein’s 1905 papers have been refuted in meticulous detail by Stachel,[41] so here I shall only deal with a couple of minor elements in Krstić’s reiteration of this claim (pp. 113-114) that illustrate the level of argument he habitually employs. In the face of Joffe’s explicitly stating that the 1905 papers were written by a single individual who at the time was an unknown official of the Patent Office in Bern, Krstić uses the fact that (for some unknown reason) Joffe apparently thought that in Switzerland at that time the family name of the wife was added (hyphenated) to a man’s name in official documents to argue that Joffe was taking the opportunity to “tell future generations” about “Mileva’s working relationship with Albert”. Why Joffe should never have previously mentioned such an important piece of information, and why he should (allegedly) put it in such cryptic form that no one noticed at the time, Krstić makes no attempt to explain. Nor does he provide a scrap of evidence for his suggestion that “It is quite possible that some parts among them [the 1905 papers] were in Mileva’s handwriting” – another example of his wish-fulfilling imaginative scenarios.

 

Another example of Krstić’s going far beyond the evidence he adduces is his interpretation (pp. 123-124, 129) of a sentence in a letter Einstein wrote to Maurice Solovine in May 2006. According to Krstić (p. 124), Einstein wrote: “As for my science, I am not successful any more. Soon I shall reach the age of sterility when one laments over the revolutionary spirit of the young.” On the basis of these words of Einstein’s, Krstić writes (p. 129) that “it can be concluded that the collaboration [with Marić] intensified”, and he goes on to list nine articles “most likely written in collaboration with Mileva” sent to scientific journals in 1906-1907.

 

Now what Einstein actually wrote to Solovine is the following:

 

Mir selbst gerät gegenwärtig nicht gerade voll in wissenschaftlicher Beziehung, bald komme, ich schon ins stationaire und sterile Alter, wo man über revolutionäre Gesimmung der Jungen wehklugt.[42]

 

In the first part of the sentence Einstein does not say, as Krstić contends, that he is not successful “any more”, but “at the moment” [gegenwärtig].[43] It is on the basis of his tendentious translation that Krstić arrives at the absurd conclusion that Marić must have collaborated on Einstein’s published scientific work immediately post-1905. He ignores the obvious fact that after the extraordinary achievements of 1905, it is hardly surprising that in the early part of the following year Einstein had made no immediate further advances.

 

(In this passage Krstić also writes that in this period “The production of papers exceeded the capacity of a single man working in a fulltime job, which had nothing to do with physics”, thereby illustrating that his imaginative capacities, so clearly in evidence in abundance elsewhere, fail when they come up against an appreciation of the sheer intensity of work creative scientists of Einstein’s calibre are capable of. He also omits to mention that Einstein’s schedule at the patent office left time for him to surreptitiously work on his own physics research, and that Einstein later observed that in the period he worked at the patent office he was in a better situation for finding time to develop his ideas than he would have been in a normal academic post.[44])

 

On the period 1908-1909, the last two years of the couple’s residence in Bern, Krstić purports (p. 133) to find evidence of their “close scientific connection” in a letter Einstein wrote to Marić when she was staying with her parents in Novi Sad in April 1908: “He informs her about several details regarding physics, including his ordering of a book by Oskar Emil Meyer (1834-1909) “The Kinetic Theory of Gases” and that a certain capable man was working in Würzburg for the determination of ε/μ.”

 

In fact Einstein reported in the sentence in question that he had ordered two books, Meyer’s on kinetic theory of gases, and Meisterstücke des Humors, “a collection of the best classics in this genre”. His mentioning his view that “Minkowski’s determination of ponderomotive forces is wrong”, that someone in Würzburg was working on his suggestion of a method for the determination of ε/μ, and that a scientific colleague Jacob Laub (who was visiting Einstein for discussions on physics), “wants to work on confirming the light quanta”, is the sum total of the “several details” on physics in the letter.[45] These passing comments merely confirm that Einstein’s world revolved almost entirely around his researches, and that he expressed this in his communication to Marić when she was away at this time. It indicates, at most, that she maintained an interest in some of her husband’s ongoing work at that time. Marić’s letter to her friend Helene Kaufler Savić the following year in which she wrote in plaintive terms that with his new post at Zurich University “he will now be able to devote himself to his beloved science, and only science” [emphasis in original] is hardly consistent with the notion that they were collaborating on physics in this period. Nor is her referring to Einstein’s professional and publishing successes without a hint of any involvement by herself and her reference to the “damned science” in other letters at this time consistent with Krstić contentions.[46] All he has to corroborate his claims concerning Marić’s supposed collaboration are third hand (at best) reports from interested parties obtained many decades after the events they purport to shed light on. And it has to be said that the fact that Krstić opens his Preface with the statement “I was born in 1936 in the city of Novi Sad [the Marić family’s home town]…in the country of Serbia” is of considerable significance for comprehending the grossly inflated claims, punctuated with the occasional highly imaginative scenarios, that comprise the bulk of his book.

 

Allen Esterson

June 2007

 

http://www.esterson.org/

 

NOTES

 

1. See my Critique of Krstić 1991;

Also: Who Did Einstein's Mathematics?: A Critique of Troemel-Ploetz.

2. Krstić, 2004, pp. 221-225.

3. Popović, 2003, pp. 101-102, 107-108.

4. Collected Papers, Volume 3, (Klein et al), 1993, p. 125.

5. Collected Papers, Volume 3, (English trans., Beck and Howard), 1993, pp. 1ff.

6. Popović, 2003, p. 105.

7. Collected Papers, Volume 3,  (Klein et al), 1993, p. 178, n.3.

8. Einstein/Besso Correspondance, 1979, pp. 10-12; Collected Papers, Volume 5 (M. J. Klein et al.), 1993, pp. 140, 144-145.

9. Seelig, 1956, p. 87.

10. Collected Papers, Volume 3 (English trans. A. Beck). 1993, pp. 143-144.

11. Collected Papers, Volume 5 (English trans. A. Beck): Swiss Years 1902-1914.

12. Frank, 1948, pp. 34-35.

13. Collected Papers, Volume 1, 1987,  document 5.

14. Renn & Schulmann, 1992, pp. 10-11.

15. Renn &Schulmann, 1992, p. 14.

16. Renn & Schulmman, 1992, pp. 15, 69, 71.

17. Renn & Schulmman, 1992, p. 39.

18. Renn & Schulmann, 1992, pp. 10, 14, 15, 69, 71, 72.

19. Renn & Schulmann, 1992, p. 35-36.

20. Renn & Schulmann, 1992, p. 62.

21. Popović, 2003, pp. 67-69.

22. Popović, 2003, p. 70.

23. Collected Papers, Volume 1 (English trans. A. Beck), 1987, doc. 100, p. 165.

24. Collected Papers, Volume 1 (J. Stachel et al.) 1987, doc. 75, p. 260.

25. Collected Papers, Volume 1 (English trans. A. Beck), 1987, doc. 75, p. 149.

26. Collected Papers, Volume 1 (J. Stachel et al.) 1987, doc. 76, p. 262.

27. Renn and Schulmann, 1992, p. 33.

28. Michelmore, 1963, pp. 31, 32.

29. Fölsing, 1997, pp. 53, 748 n.22; Einstein, 1956, p. 11; Einstein, 1979, p. 17.

30. Collected Papers, Vol. 1 [Eng. trans.], 1987, pp. 125, 140; Trbuhović-Gjurić, 1988, pp. 49-50; 1991, p. 70.

31. Renn & Schulmann, 1992.

32. Trbuhović-Gjurić, 1988, p. 43; 1991, pp. 49-50; Fölsing, 1997, p. 57.

33. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, docs. 28, 42, 67; Trbuhović-Gjurić, 1988, pp. 43, 63; 1991, pp. 49-50, 70.

34. Solovine, 1987, p. 13.

35. Popović, 2003.

36. Trbuhović-Gjurić, 1988, p. 93; 1991, p. 106 [my translation – A. E.].

37. Zackheim, 1999, pp. 185-186.

38. Zackheim, 1999, p. 54.

39. Whitrow, 1967, p. 19.

40. Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife  http://www.esterson.org/milevamaric.htm;

Who Did Einstein's Mathematics?: A Response to Troemel-Ploetz.

41. Stachel, 2005, pp. liv-lxiii.

See also Martinez, 2005.

42. Solovine, 1987, p. 20.

43. Solovine, 1987, p. 19.

44. Collected Papers, Volume 5 (English trans.), 1995, doc. 187, p. 140.

45. Collected Papers, Volume 5 (English trans.), 1995, doc. 96, p. 69.

46. Popović, 2003, pp. 97, 98, 101, 102.    

 

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Einstein, A. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. Princeton University Press.

Einstein, A. (1979 [1949]). “Autobiographical Notes.” Trans. by P. S. Schilpp. La Salle, Illinois: Open Court.

Einstein, A. (1956 [1954]). “Autobiographische Skizze.” In C. Seelig (ed.), Helle Zeit – Dunkle Zeit: In memoriam Albert Einstein, Zurich: Europa Verlag, 1956.

Einstein, E. R. (1991). Hans Albert Einstein: Reminiscences of His Life and Our Life Together. University of Iowa, 1991.

Esterson, A. (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife.

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

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Krstić, D. (1991). Appendix. In Elizabeth R. Einstein, Hans Albert Einstein: Reminiscences of His Life and Our Life Together, University of Iowa, 1991, pp. 85-99.

Krstić, D. (2004). Mileva & Albert Einstein: Their Love and Scientific Collaboration. Radovljica: Didakta.

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

Popović, M. (2003). In Albert's Shadow The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife. Johns Hopkins University Press.

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

Seelig, C. (1956). Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography. London: Staples Press.

Solovine, M. (1987). Albert Einstein: Letters to Solovine. Philosophical Library, New York.

Stachel, J. (1996). “Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić: A Collaboration that Failed to Develop.” In H. M. Pycior, N. G. Slack, and P. G. Abir-Am (eds.), Creative Couples in the Sciences, Rutgers University Press. Reprinted in Stachel, J. (2002), Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’, Boston/Basel/Berlin: Birkhauser, pp. 39–55.

Stachel, J. (2002). Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’. Boston/Basel/ Berlin: Birkhäuser.

Stachel, J. (ed.) (2005). Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton University Press.

Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1988). Im Schatten Albert Einsteins: Das tragische Leben der Mileva Einstein-Marić. Bern: Paul Haupt. (The German language edition is an edited version of the book by Trbuhović-Gjurić originally published in Serbo-Croat in Yugoslavia in 1969.)

Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1991), Mileva Einstein: Une Vie (French translation of Im Schatten Albert Einsteins: Das tragische Leben der Mileva Einstein-Marić). Paris: Antoinette Fouque.

Troemel-Ploetz, S. (1990). “Mileva Einstein-Marić: The Woman Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics.” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp. 415-432.

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Zackheim, M. (1999). Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl. New York: Riverhead.