When did Einstein die?

When Albert Einstein was right for the last time

When Albert Einstein was admitted to Princeton Hospital in New Jersey in mid-April 1955, he was 76 years old and had an incredible career. Einstein had brought physics into a new era, had risen from a small patent office clerk in Switzerland to the most famous scientist of modern times. He had received a Nobel Prize (albeit not for his most important work), had been exposed to anti-Semitic attacks as a Jew in Germany and emigrated to the USA. There he - despite his pacifist stance - against the background of the research successes in Nazi Germany, suggested the construction of an atomic bomb in the USA, but was classified by the FBI as an untrustworthy socialist and had campaigned for nuclear disarmament after the war. Until recently he had taken a public position on socio-political issues and criticized the manic anti-communism of the McCarthy era, and was hostile and cheered.

Much has been written about Einstein's life and work - but the flow of new literature is far from running dry. 65 years after the death of the exceptional physicist, two new books have been published that illuminate the scientist and person Einstein and his companions from different perspectives.

Walks through space and time

In the book "As Einstein and Gödel went for a walk" (Rowohlt Verlag), the American author Jim Holt has gathered fascinating episodes from the stimulating friendship between the world-famous physicist and the exceptional mathematician Gödel, who is 27 years his junior. The two met in 1940 at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, and soon they were taking daily walks together. The friendship between the two was so close that Einstein is said to have said once that he was only coming to the institute "to have the privilege of being able to walk home with Gödel".

Among the countless letters of congratulations that Albert Einstein received on his 70th birthday in 1949 was a four-page essay that was to go down in the history of science itself. The Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel, who like Einstein lived in exile in Princeton, proposed nothing less than a new universe. But that's not all: This Gödel’s universe, which results from a special solution of the field equations in Einstein's general theory of relativity, proves the theoretical feasibility of time travel. Einstein, who had seen no possibility of such a mathematical loophole in his theory, was initially not very enthusiastic.

Interesting insights into the thinking of the two scientists are also provided by curious anecdotes such as those about Gödel's process of naturalization in the USA. During the preparations for this, the logician encountered contradictions in the American constitution - and Einstein was only able to prevent him with the greatest effort from presenting them fully to the judge at the hearing and thereby endangering his naturalization.

Corrections on the deathbed

With "Einstein. His life, his research, his legacy", the Langenmüller publishing house now has the clear and picture-rich short biography of the American author Walter Isaacson in German. The book is like a colorful Best Of Einstein, which leads through science and the winding paths of his life - supplemented with numerous images of original documents, newspaper clippings and letters.

The collapse at work on April 12, 1955 was like a screeching halt for Einstein. He had just drafted a manifesto for nuclear disarmament together with Bertrand Russell (it was to be published in the summer as the "Russell-Einstein Manifesto"). He had also been working on a speech he wanted to give on Israeli Independence Day - and, as always, he had also studied physics at the Institute of Advanced Study. Now the doctors were telling the scientist, who had suffered from aneurysm of the aorta for years, that his only hope, though slight, was immediate surgery. Einstein did not see hope and refused.

Albert Einstein died in the early morning hours of April 18, 1955 at the age of 76. An operation, the chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital later reported, could not have saved him - Einstein had, so to speak, been right one last time (with his physics, of course, he still does that today). Isaacson writes in his book that there were twelve full pages of paper on the table next to his hospital bed. "On the last page he corrected some arithmetic errors with uncertain writing, but the page was filled with equations up to the last line." (David Rennert, April 18, 2020)