Albert Einstein (1879–1955), one of the foremost scientists and public figures of the 20th century, revolutionized our views of time and space, matter and light, gravitation and the universe.
The Einstein Papers Project is engaged in one of the most ambitious scholarly publishing ventures undertaken in the history of science. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein provides the first complete picture of Einstein’s massive written legacy.
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein series now covers Einstein's life and work up to his 46th birthday. It presents, as annotated full text, 400 writings by Einstein and 3,450 letters written by and to him. An additional 2,654 documents appear in abstract.
One thing that excites me about Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein is turning its pages. I state this without facetiousness. The tactile interactivity inherent in book reading is a pleasure for me, and the pages in this volume have a velvety glide to their surface. The weight of the paper is lighter than in previous volumes, a measure taken by our press to adapt to the quantity of information contained in the book. The written content of the volumes seems to grow exponentially with each passing publication. There is much to pack in. The editors are diligent in their culling and presentation of material. The book is, as an object, made to present its contents in an elegant and organized manner. The paper could be viewed as a mere substrate for the printed matter—the important information—but it is an integral part of how I experience the book's contents.
The "presence of the hand" is a term used by artists to describe work where one can see the mark of the maker. In the diagram illustrating this post we see the marks of a thinker. A sketch by Einstein—an idea shared with a friend—in a letter he wrote to Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe. Facsimiles of hand-drawn diagrams visually punctuate the 528 full text documents in Volume 15. While one must transcribe hand written documents to make them more accessible to readers, the diagrams can serve as a window into the materiality of the original letter. Thanks to the work of colleagues at the Albert Einstein Archives, Einstein Papers Project staff have beautiful digital images of Einstein’s original papers to work from. In these images, one can see drips and smudges, hesitant touches of pen to page, and how lines lighten up as ink runs low in a pen—indicating the direction the pen was moved.
Seeing how something has been written or drawn can reveal the intimacy of a shared idea. Sharing an idea, like turning the pages of a book, is something everyone can understand even as we struggle to understand Einstein. 5-14-18
Photo Credits: The image of Einstein’s hands is a detail from the dust jacket of Volume 15 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. (Courtesy Leo Baeck Institute, NY) The diagram as seen here in the original document can be found in a letter to Hermann Anschütz-Kaempfe by Einstein, written 31 August 1925 and published as Document 57 in Volume 15 of the CPAE.