An eye-opening collection of travel diaries from the legendary scientist and thinker.
In October 1922, Einstein (1879-1955) and his wife set out on a nearly five-month voyage to the Far East, Palestine, and Spain, financed by the lectures he would give. He kept a 182-page detailed diary with drawings, which is now being published for the first time. Rosenkranz (Einstein Before Israel: Zionist Icon or Iconoclast?, 2011, etc.), senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project, has provided a translation with facing facsimile pages, additional texts, photographs, and a lengthy historical introduction. In what the editor describes as a “quirky” and “telegraphic manner,” Einstein recorded his impressions of things he had seen, people he met, and some musings on science, philosophy, art, and world events. Rosenkranz is convinced that Einstein had no intention of publishing it, and he writes that in “spite of his public advocacy of human rights, it was science, not humanity, that lay at the center of Einstein’s universe.” As he worked on the diary, Rosenkranz became troubled by entries that “amounted to xenophobic comments about some of the peoples he encountered.” Many will find Einstein’s comments quite shocking. On the Chinese mainland, he describes an “industrious, filthy, lethargic people.” They squat at eateries “like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods.” The “children are spiritless,” and it “would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races.” He had a more favorable opinion of the Japanese—“unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing”—and yet, Rosenkranz notes, he was “mystified by their alleged lack of scientific curiosity.” At Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, “obtuse ethnic brethren pray loudly….Pitiful sight of people with a past but without a present.”
Rosenkranz argues that in 1922, Einstein was a man of his times when it
came to the West’s images of the Orient, and “we should not be too judgmental
in our assessment.” That may be difficult for some readers, but the editor
offers an accurate portrait of the Einstein of that era.