Einstein's Letters To His Best Friend

A good friend knows knows all your best and worst stories.. but a true friend has lived them with you. We all have that one person in our lives on whom we rely blindly, share every aspect of life eagerly, laugh endlessly with, enjoy craziness and stupidity, someone whom we love unconditionally. Yes, they are the Best Friends. Those rare priceless pearls who make your life worth living..
Ever wondered who was this pearl in Einstein's life?

Albert Einstein; Credits: Wikipedia

This Friendship Day, let's get to know the other side of Einstein, different from his inventions and theories. An emotional side, with his best friend. Let's cross paths with Michele Besso! 

The First Meet

When they met, Einstein wasn’t "The Einstein" yet. He was just Albert Einstein, a kid, about 17, with a dark cloud of teenage anxiety and a violin. Michele Besso was older, 23, but a similar spirit. Growing up in Italy, he had an impressive aptitude for mathematics, but he was kicked out of high school for insubordination and had to go live with his uncle in Rome. Einstein could very much relate to his situation.

Einstein in his initial young phase of exploring physics; Credits: Courtesy Photo

Their first encounter was on a Saturday night in Zurich, 1896. They were at Selina Caprotti’s house by the lake for one of her music parties. Einstein was smart—dark hair, moustache, soulful brown eyes. Besso was short with narrow, pointed features and a thick pile of coarse black hair on his head and chin. Einstein had a look of cool detachment. Besso had the look of a nervous mystic. As they chatted, Einstein learned that Besso worked at an electrical machinery factory; Besso learned that Einstein was studying physics. Perhaps they recognized something common in each other then: They both wanted to get to the truth of things.

The Letters: Einstein to Besso

Thomas Venning, Head of Books & Manuscripts at Christie’s in London, explored the touching correspondence between Einstein and his dear friend of more than 50 years illustrated with letters written long back.

Cataloguing the letters from Albert Einstein to his closest friend, Michele Besso, was a roller-coaster ride: intellectually exhilarating, funny, endearing — and with an unexpected conclusion.

After Michele Besso and Einstein first met as students in Zurich in the late 1890s, their friendship started cementing during their time working together in the early 1900s in the Swiss federal patent office in Bern. In the evenings after work, the two friends would stroll home together, and many years later Einstein would remember how thoughts of everyday life would fall away as they discussed scientific subjects. When Einstein changed the world of physics for ever in 1905 with four groundbreaking papers, Michele Besso was his only acknowledged collaborator. Einstein called Besso "the best sounding board in Europe" for scientific ideas.

Einstein and Besso; Credits: Courtesy photo

"Working through these 56 letters was almost like getting to know Einstein himself," explained Thomas Venning, who catalogued the manuscripts for the Christie's auction. "What’s more, this was a particularly attractive side of him, the side that his closest friend saw over 50 years. The most striking parts of his personality? His humility, his absolute love of what he did ... and his ability, through that extraordinary mind, to see the universe in a perspective that is beyond the rest of us."

It was because of their close intellectual understanding that Einstein felt able to talk freely and in detail to Besso about the key scientific concepts of his career: special and general relativity, the ‘cosmological constant’, the red shift of spectral lines, ‘time’s arrow’, unified field theory, quantum mechanics and much else.

Einstein's postcard to Besso written in german after he delivered his paper on relativity; Credits: Courtesy Photo

For a non-scientist it was hard — sometimes impossible — to keep up, but the sensation of observing this great mind working at full speed was extraordinary for Besso.

The letters also reveal the human side of Einstein: walking in the mountains with his young son, making fun of crusty old colleagues in Berlin, grumbling about being shown off ‘like a prize bullock’ on an early tour of the United States, dying of boredom in a League of Nations meeting. You feel his anguish and remorse as his first marriage breaks down and he becomes estranged from his children. There are plenty of jokes, too, about himself, his fame, being Jewish, getting old — even about quantum physics.

Above all, there is his delight in his work, his relish for a new theory, his sense of elevation when grasping at fundamental truths — which he expresses in one letter as ‘getting closer to God’.

A 1921 postcard that Einstein wrote to Besso; Credits: Courtesy Photo

The last letter in the cache is one written by Einstein to Besso's family shortly after Besso passed away. (Einstein himself would die a month later.) As Venning points out:

"The letter ends with a famous sentence, which reflects their deep friendship and the scientific understanding they shared, as well as the distance they had traveled since those happy days as patent clerks in Bern: ‘Now he has again preceded me a little in parting from this strange world. This has no importance. For people like us who believe in physics, the separation between past, present and future has only the importance of an admittedly tenacious illusion.’

"After I had finished cataloguing this letter, I sat staring at my computer for a moment, and then I did something I’ve never done before in nearly 20 years of cataloguing autograph letters. I burst into tears."

It is truly said that " Making a million friends is not a Miracle. The Miracle is to make one such friend who will stand by you when millions are against you.."

Michele Besso; Credits: Wikipedia



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