The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

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The book shelves are flush with fictional biographies of women, many of whom are remembered as the wives of someone famous.  Marie Benedict adds to this library with The Other Einstein, a novel about Mileva Maric, brilliant mathematician and first wife of Albert Einstein.  Mileva is from a modest background and has a hip deformity that gives her a limp and appears to preclude her from getting married.  Her disability allows her the freedom to pursue mathematics,as she does at the Polytechnic in Zürich. There she meets Albert Einstein: charming, brilliant, distracting.

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The Other Einstein details Mileva and Albert’s courtship, marriage and ends at their divorce (not really a spoiler since she is known as his first wife.)

I found myself reading with interest for the first half of the book, and angrily for its conclusion.  My very naive knowledge of Einstein must come from folk lore and swag:  the picture on t-shirts and books, smiling with his eyes kindly crinkling, and knowledge seeming to circle his head.  Mileva appears to escape some of the constraints for women in the early 1900s; her hip problems free her from marriage and her genius is nurtured.  She is able to continue her education, and her determination, drive and intellect opens doors not always open to women.  It seemed as if she was ahead of her time!  Even her courtship with Einstein seems a bit extraordinary.  It is when she becomes pregnant and is forced to choose a more traditional path that both her academic pursuits and her romance with Einstein falter.  Einstein’s resentful treatment of Mileva will get right under your skin.  The controversy surrounding her input to Einstein’s relativity papers is an effective chunk of this second half of the book  I found that whole portion of the novel frustrating, and if I didn’t decide to research some of the facts as I read, I would have found it all hard to believe and a huge diversion from the first half.  Mary, Simone, Betty, Alice, Sojourner, Elizabeth, Susan B…where are you?!

Still, exasperation or not, I recommend The Other Einstein.  It is a good read, and any book that prompts me to learn more, react strongly, and want to discuss is worth a look!