by Graham Pierrepoint
You’ll be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn’t at least heard of the name Albert Einstein. Renowned for his publication of his theory of relativity, the German theorist is perhaps one of the most revered of his ilk – famed not only for his brilliant mind but also for his humanitarian actions, a note of ‘happiness’ written by the man himself famously sold for $1.6 million in recent months – and his name has been synonymous with that of the concept of ‘genius’ since his rise to prominence. Certainly, Einstein is a name which will likely still be well known in centuries to come – this week, however, revelations of private travel diaries belonging to the physicist appear to put some of his views in a slightly different light – or is it a case of attitudes changing?
Diaries which reportedly date between October 1922 and March 1923 appear to offer criticism upon some of the countries he visited – everything has been revealed as part of a new publication on behalf of Princeton University Press, entitled The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922 – 1923. Speaking of his time in Colombia, the diarist wrote of the people: “They live in great filth and considerable stench down on the ground, do little, and need little.”
▶ Einstein's Diaries Reveal A Racist Streak
He appears to refer to China as a ‘peculiar herd-like nation’, and that there is ‘little difference’ between the country’s men and women – also describing Chinese children, reportedly, as ‘spiritless and obtuse’. It is, according to Einstein’s notes, “a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races,” – referring to the Chinese in general as ‘industrious’, ‘filthy’ and ‘obtuse’. These generalizations have been met with some concern, though some commentators are keen to point out that not only was Einstein a noted humanitarian who advocated for US civil rights (having moved to the US during the rise of Adolf Hitler in his homeland), but that social attitudes have changed greatly since his notes were first written almost 100 years ago.
However, it’s hard to say what impact these diaries will have upon Einstein’s image – both as a legendary scientist and as a champion for civil rights – the man who once referred to racism as a ‘disease of white people’ – though some of the comments made in the diaries unearthed and published this week may not sit well with many people.