This was a book that floated across my ‘recommended’ selection on Netgalley, and the blurb intrigued me. I’d never much thought about Einstein having a wife (in fact he had two), and although he was one of the most celebrated scientists of all time, and I took relativity in my degree courses, I wondered what the story would reveal. I’m glad I did.
The Other Einstein
by Marie Benedict
A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.
What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.
A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.
This beautifully crafted fictional biography of Mileva Marić describes her dedication from an early age to a life of science, partly as she discovers her parents believe her looks and distorted hip mean she will never marry, and partly due to her own natural enquiring mind and brilliance at mathematics. Knowing all too well the barriers that still occur in the academic world, especially in some countries, and the formalities of the more Germanic universities a hundred years on, I found the descriptions of her struggles to even gain a place on a university physics course easily believable. My concerns about the evidence for her early relationships with the young Einstein were allayed by the existence of letters between the pair, and whilst the story woven is in itself only too believable, it was good to know that there was actually some basis or inference from fact.
Mileva reminds me of a number of serious, focused girls entering a man’s world. The author was a woman in a very male-biased legal setting for many years, so I guess her experiences resonate with my own in business. The maintenance of strict propriety, the reluctance to speak unless totally sure of one’s ground (unlike men who can hypothesise freely), and the dedication to studying so that one is way beyond the competence expected of one’s colleagues, all ring true. Add to this Mileva’s background as a Slav in the early twentieth century (definitely a second-class citizen), and you can lift this setting into any ‘minority fighting for equality’ that you like.
Young Einstein had his troubles, too. He was bored by the establishment sticking to the old guard of physicists, and wanted to talk about the new theories emerging. He was also Jewish, which put him into and uneasy relationship with the university authorities. In Mileva he found an academic equal, and a minority one too, ready to dash off for an adventure against all that oppressed them.
Having sucked me into this elegantly told tale with excellent descriptive work on Zurich, it then led me into the ‘no, don’t do that!’ exclamation as the author takes Mileva inexorably downhill into obscurity. This progression was so real, and such a classic example of grooming, that I cannot believe it is not true, or at least all the keys to the real-life events.
I particularly liked the part near the end, where the author uses an encounter with Marie and Pierre Curie as a counterpoint to what Mileva’s life could have been, and with it the irony of Einstein’s own duplicity.
This is a very believable account of a woman to whom science probably owes a great deal, who has been buried in other people’s pasts. Thank goodness Mrs Stephen Hawking was allowed to tell her own tale.
This is a brilliant tale of a woman fighting the odds to become a recognised scientist in the early 20th century, and easily deserves 5 stars.