Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

16
'The Suddenly Famous Doctor Einstein'

16a. Illness; Remarriage; Death of Mother

Part IV of this book began with an account of Einstein's arrival in Berlin, his separation from Mileva, his reactions to the First World War, and his earliest activities in the political sphere. This was followed by a description of the final phases in the creation of general relativity. In the previous chapter, Einstein's role in the further development of this theory and its impact on later generations of physicists were discussed. In this chapter, I turn to the impact of general relativity on the world at large, an impact that led to the abrupt emergence of Einstein as a charismatic figure and a focus of awe, reverence, and hatred. I also continue the story, begun in Section 14a, of Einstein's years in Berlin. To begin with, I return to the days just after November 1915, when Einstein completed his work on the foundations of general relativity.

As was mentioned before, in December 1915 Einstein wrote to his friend Besso that he was 'zufrieden aber ziemlich kaputt,' satisfied but rather worn out [E1]. He did not take a rest, however. In 1916 he wrote ten scientific papers, including his first major survey of general relativity, his theory of spontaneous and induced emission, his first paper on gravitational waves, articles on the energy-momentum conservation laws and on the Schwarzschild solution, and a new proposal for measuring the Einstein-de Haas effect. He also completed his first semipopular book on relativity. Too much exertion combined with a lack of proper care must have been the chief cause of a period of illness that began sometime in 1917 and lasted several years.

I do not know precisely when this period began, but in February 1917 Einstein wrote to Ehrenfest that he would not be able to visit Holland because of a liver ailment that had forced him to observe a severe diet and to lead a very quiet life [E2]. That quiet life did not prevent him from writing the founding paper on general relativistic cosmology in that same month. Lorentz expressed regret that Einstein could not come; however, he wrote, 'After the strenuous work of recent years, you deserve a rest' [L1]. Einstein's reply shows that his indisposition was not a trivial matter. He mentioned that he could get proper nourishment because of the connections that his family in Berlin maintained with relatives in southern

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