Einstein wasn’t clearly a genius early in life. As a child, little Albert was slow in learning to talk and walk. As he got older, his large feet made him waddle like a duck. He was extremely introspective, spending long hours watching ant colonies or trying to befriend the family’s chickens. Most children in Ulm, Germany found him a dull companion.
At school, he was inattentive and slow in everything but math and literature. Teachers called him “Herr Langweil”,” which roughly translates as “Mister Dullard.”
Although Einstein was Jewish, his family wasn’t devout. Albert even attended a Catholic school. One traumatic year during Lent, his teacher held up three large rusty nails and told the students, “These were the nails the Jews used to crucify Jesus.”
As he grew up, Einstein was a lousy student who rarely took notes and often cut classes. He also had an attitude problem, preferring to work solutions out for himself instead of accepting the teacher’s answer. “The problem is you don’t think anyone has anything to tell you,” scolded one teacher.
When his father asked the headmaster what profession Albert should adopt, he got the answer, “It doesn’t matter, he’ll never make a success of anything.”
Einstein applied to the Polytechnic Academy at Zurich but flunked the entrance exam. One of the examiners noticed his brilliance in mathematics and recommended he go to a small liberal arts school; if he did well he could return to the Polytechnic in a year. Easy enough. A hear later Einstein began a four year course in physics.
In college, he met Mileva Maric, who became his wife. She was bright and independent woman who was studying to become a math teacher. She and Einstein’s best friend Marcel Grossman made sure that Albert, perpetually lost in the world of physics, remember to take care of basics like eating and going to classes.
After Einstein graduated in 1902, he couldn’t find a teaching job, so he went to work in the Swiss patent office. Yet, he kept working on physics questions. Remarkably, in 1905, he published five papers that shook the physics world by explaining Brownian motion, photons, and relativity. This paved the way for a teaching position in Zurich in 1909.
Albert and Mileva had two sons, the younger of whom was schizophrenic and spent most of his life either with his mother or in an institution.
Einstein’s second wife, Elsa also had to protect him from his absentmindedness. Once when Einstein was sick and confined to bed, Elsa banned paper and pencils from his room to keep him from working. She allowed a small group of students to visit him on the condition they not talk about physics or math. But after the students left, Elsa found equations scrawled all over Einstein’s bed sheets.
Einstein gave his eldest son the fatherly advice, “Don’t get married.” When his son married shortly after, Einstein warned him, “At least don’t have children.” His son ignored this advice, too, and had several children in a very happy marriage. Einstein grumbled, “I don’t understand it. I don’t think you’re my son.”
Einstein charged people a dollar for his autograph which he gave to charity. he made an exception when he met Charlie Chaplin, giving him an autographed photo for free.
For many years Einstein thought of his work in physics as something of a hobby. He considered himself as something of a failure because what he really wanted to do was play concert violin.
Einstein was uncharacteristically intense when playing his violin, cussing a blue streak whenever he made a mistake. One evening, while playing violin duets with Queen Elizabeth, Einstein suddenly stopped mid-piece and unceremoniously told her she was playing too loudly.
Einstein was reluctant to give up his rarely used home in Germany until a friend convinced him that the Nazis would drag him through the streets by his famous hair if he returned. Einstein finally renounced his German citizenship and abandoned the country of his childhood forever.
After the war, Einstein used his fame to support political ideas he favored, like Zionism and pacifism. He also remained an eccentric in other areas as well: For example, he gave up wearing socks as an unnecessary complication.
Meanwhile he continued with his work. In 1949, at the age of seventy, he presented his Generalized Theory of Gravitation, the product of half a lifetime’s work. Unfortunately, he had not yet been able to work all the mathematical proofs. His health was failing and he knew he wouldn’t livelong enough to prove the theory either true or false.
When asked about the proofs he would joke weakly, “Come back in twenty years.” Four years later he was dead. Since then his theory of a “unified field” in physics remains unsubstantiated.
By his request, Einstein’s brain was removed before cremation in 1955 so that it could be studied. For unknown reasons it got chopped into pieces and shelved in the study of Dr. Thomas Harvey, the doctor who removed it from Einstein’s cranium.
The brain spent three decades in Weston, Missouri, stored behind a beer cooler in a couple of Mason jars inside a box labeled “Costa Cider.” It has since been found and has been made available to other scientists.