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

By Abraham Pais | Go to book overview

27
The Final Decade

Einstein's mind continued to be intensely active and fully alert until the very end of his life. During the last ten years, however, his age, the state of his health, his never-ending urge to do physics, and the multitude of his extra-scientific involvements called for economy in the use of his energies and time. He kept to simple routines as much as possible. He would come down for breakfast at about nine o'clock, then read the morning papers. At about ten-thirty he would walk to The Institute for Advanced Study, stay there until one o'clock, then walk home. I know of one occasion when a car hit a tree after its driver suddenly recognized the face of the beautiful old man walking along the street, his black woollen knit cap firmly planted on his long white hair. After lunch he would go to bed for a few hours. Then he would have a cup of tea, work some more or attend to his mail or receive people for discussions of nonpersonal matters. He took his evening meal between six-thirty and seven. Thereafter he would work again or listen to the radio (there was no television in his home) or occasionally receive a friend. He normally retired between eleven and twelve. Every Sunday at noon he listened to a news analysis broadcast by Howard K. Smith. Guests were never invited at that hour. On Sunday afternoons there would be walks or drives in some friend's car. Only seldom would he go out to a play or a concert, very rarely to a movie. He would occasionally attend a physics seminar at Palmer Laboratory, causing the awed hush I mentioned before. In those last years, he no longer played the violin but improvised daily on the piano. He also had stopped smoking his beloved pipes [D1].

At the beginning of his last decade Einstein, sixty-six years old, shared his home on Mercer Street with his sister Maja, his stepdaughter Margot, and Helen Dukas, who took care of everything from mail to meals. Soon after the end of the war, Maja began making preparations for rejoining her husband, Paul, who then was living with the Bessos in Geneva [E1]. It was not to be. In 1946 she suffered a stroke and remained bedridden thereafter. Her situation deteriorated; in the end she could no longer speak, though her mind remained clear. Every night after dinner, Einstein would go to the room of his sister, who was so dear to him, and read to her. She died in the Mercer Street home in June 1951.

Physics remained at the center of Einstein's being in the final decade, during which, as I described earlier, he concentrated exclusively on unified field theory

-473-

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