Why Einstein is so famous

Why did Einstein’s fame burn brighter than any other scientist’s? This article in the New Yorker from 1933 explains it:

The chief agent in making Einstein the idol of the masses was Carr V. Van Anda, the great editor of the period. Van Anda had a genius for compelling millions to make his hobbies their hobbies. Ten years ago, for example, the average American became an amateur Egyptologist because Van Anda was an amateur Egyptologist. Starting with a routine dispatch telling of some promising excavations at Thebes, Van Anda filled the New York Times with endless columns about the Egypt of three thousand years ago and made Tut-ankh-Amen a household word. It had long been one of Van Anda’s journalistic hunches that an unlooted tomb of ancient Egypt would be discovered some day; it was another of his hunches that a flaw might be found in the Newtonian theory. He had learned to read hieroglyphics and had devoted himself to higher mathematics, so that he was thoroughly prepared to exploit both hunches. On the announcement that the relativity theory had been confirmed, he opened all the floodgates of publicity on Einstein. The pages of the Times in Van Anda’s day had the same authority with the journalistic profession that the sacred gold plates had among the Mormons of Joseph Smith’s day. The entire American press was soon struggling to explain relativity; the country weeklies held Einstein orgies patterned after the Einstein orgies in the Times. The European press got much of its interest in relativity by way of America, and even today the name of Einstein retains on this side of the Atlantic its peculiar rallying power as the battle cry of the culture-seeker.

It also paints a delightfully goofy portrait of the man:

When a magazine offered him an amazing sum for an article, he rejected it contemptuously. “What?” he exclaimed. “Do they think I am a prizefighter?” But he finally wrote the article after arguing the magazine into cutting the price in half. It is said that he declined his present post at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton on the ground that the salary was preposterously munificent, and was persuaded to accept only by the promise of an enormous pay cut…

Presented by Lord Haldane to the Royal Society in England as a man of unparalleled intellectual boldness, Einstein found himself intimidated by the livery of the Haldane retainers. “He is too formidable,” said the Professor later at the Haldane place, when Mrs. Einstein wanted to summon the butler to fix a window…

The Professor and his wife were both bewildered by the barbaric hospitality which overwhelmed them on their earlier visits to [America]. They agreed that they must blindly accept whatever occurred to them in this bizarre republic; at a dinner in Cleveland, Mrs. Einstein, shrugging her shoulders at what appeared to be an elegant American eccentricity, ate a bouquet of orchids which she found on what seemed to be a salad plate.

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One thought on “Why Einstein is so famous

  1. Reblogged this on peakmemory and commented:
    As a Clevelander, I appreciated this:
    “at a dinner in Cleveland, Mrs. Einstein, shrugging her shoulders at what appeared to be an elegant American eccentricity, ate a bouquet of orchids which she found on what seemed to be a salad plate.”

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