One might think that if there is any scientist whose work has been thoroughly researched and studied, whose every manuscript and letter has been scrutinized by scholars and other scientists, it would be Albert Einstein. He created the idea of the light quantum, the special and general theories of relativity, wrote the decisive paper establishing the existence of atoms, suggested the first model of the universe as a whole, introduced the principles that gave rise to lasers, and many more things. He also invented a design for a new kind of refrigerator, a gyrocompass, and worked on designs for a tape recorder and a camera that would self-adjust to light intensity. He was instrumental in bringing German science back into the fold of international cooperation after the First World War, and in creating the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He became a major figurehead of the international pacifist movement in the interwar period and the disarmament movement in the postwar period. He exchanged letters with all the great physicists of his time over decades, with senior political leaders, writers, musicians, and artists.
Of whom, if not of Einstein, would we expect that every piece of paper he had ever set his pen to had been studied with great care already?
And yet, it has not happened so far. Einstein’s literary estate, his published and unpublished manuscripts, his letters and notebooks, contain tens of thousands of pages, mostly handwritten. Much of it has likely not been read by anybody, let alone been researched thoroughly, and followed through line by line.
The Einstein Papers Project investigates the literary estate of Albert Einstein: his published works, his unpublished manuscripts, his letters, exchanged with colleagues, friends and family. The transcription, analysis, and annotation of these documents evolves into the edition of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. Fourteen volumes have been published so far, always in a documentary edition with all the documents in the original language, and an accompanying translation volume in which the most important documents are translated into English. Thirteen of these volumes are now freely available in the Digital Edition of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The printed edition of Volume 14 came out in March 2015, and will join the other volumes in the digital edition by March 2017. It contains the transcriptions of Einstein’s papers from April 1923 to May 1925. Its description on the website of Princeton University Press reads:
“The more than one thousand letters and several dozen writings included in this volume cover the years immediately before the final formulation of new quantum mechanics. The discovery of the Compton effect in 1923 vindicates Einstein’s light quantum hypothesis. Niels Bohr still criticizes Einstein’s conception of light quanta and advances an alternative theory, but Walther Bothe and Hans Geiger perform a difficult experiment that decides in favor of Einstein’s theory. At the same time, Satyendranath Bose sends a new quantum theoretical derivation of Planck’s law to Einstein and he discovers what is now known as Bose-Einstein condensation. Einstein attempts to reformulate a unified theory of the gravitational and electromagnetic fields. In early November 1923, Einstein flees overnight to the Netherlands in the wake of threats on his life and anti-Semitic rioting in Berlin. He rejoins the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation in June 1924, and supports the idea of a European union. He joins the board of governors of Hebrew University, which opens in April 1925, and celebrates the event in Buenos Aires while on a seven-week lecture tour of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. During this period, he delivers lectures, meets with heads of state, visits major institutions, and attends receptions hosted by the local Jewish and German communities. He has a serious, but short-lived, falling out with his son Hans Albert and his first wife Mileva Maric-Einstein over how to invest part of the Nobel Prize money and he rescues his sister Maja and her husband from debt on their house. Einstein has a fourteen-month romantic relationship with his secretary, Betty Neumann, which he ends in October 1924.”
Many of the documents contained in Volume 14 have only been properly researched in the course of the work on this volume. During the preparation of this volume we came to understand why Einstein retracted his first, critical, reaction to Alexander Friedmann’s papers introducing the idea of an expanding universe. We noticed for the first time the intricacies of Einstein’s most detailed reaction to Immanuel Kant’s philosophy in the context of general relativity. And in working on this volume we started to understand what Einstein thought of the concept of indistinguishable particles that he helped create – and what he thought of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
The work on every volume is an adventure. Each brings with it the discovery or rediscovery of new documents, of forgotten elements of Einstein’s life and thought. We see for the first time how Einstein’s thoughts, discoveries, and activities in a given year are interconnected, what drove him, what excited him, what he understood and did not understand.
This website is designed to let the general public take part in this adventure. From now on, we will post a substantial update at least once a month. We will introduce past and present discoveries from our work on Einstein’s documents, sneak previews of documents not yet published, and introduce the favorite Einstein documents of the various members of our team. This is the first post in this new endeavor; we hope you will return again next month.