I Am Albert Einsten, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Compared to the rest of the books of the series I have read (five so far, reviews forthcoming), this is perhaps the most enjoyable of them. Part of that is because this book has no obvious political agendas to engage in and because the portrayal of Einstein is particularly Nathanish. Both of these lend itself to a much more positive review than something that has an ax to grind or that is not quite as relatable. Of course this book simplifies the history of Albert Einstein and leaves out quite a few details (more about that anon) about his life and work, but if you want to understand how it was that Einstein came to be, with a great deal of humor, this book has a lot to offer. At the very least, this particular volume leaves one with a desire to engage in scientific discovery and a willingness to do so even at some cost to one’s convenience. The book also serves to counteract the intense pressure that people face with regards to studies to seek grades and not knowledge or insight of areas one is passionate about, and it is worthwhile to encourage self-study and the creative use of one’s time.
The story told here is a somewhat straightforward one, we see Einstein as a child who thinks differently from others and who finds himself being insulted by many because of the way his brain works and because he loves to read and to think even as a child, where others are filled with much more active interests. We see Einstein struggle as a student because of boredom and because he has other interests that often trump his concern in getting a good grade in the class itself, something that tends to happen to very intellectual people whose interests may be far more intense than the concerns of the moment. We also see Einstein working as a patent clerk while moonlighting as an independent writer and researcher, something some of us know very well and seeking to convince the world of his insights about relativity before basking in the glory of success as a Nobel prize-winning physicist. All of this we see, and it is clearly designed to encourage readers to follow their passions and insights and engage in research even if one faces a difficult time in doing so, all of which is worthwhile encouragement to make.
Yet there are a few things this book does not discuss that are worthwhile. The author nowhere discusses the author’s faith (an issue that the author tends to shy away from a great deal). Nor does he discuss Einstein’s flight from Nazi Germany or his efforts to help the United States create the atomic bomb. Having read a few of the author’s other works, these absences appear to be intentional. What is not said about someone is as important as what is said, and Einstein’s need to escape from Nazi Germany and his efforts in military research indicate a lack of pacifism and an instinct for self-preservation that the author appears not to want to tell about to children. Again, as is common in the author’s works for children, this book presents the problem of how much truth one should tell children. Should one say that it is heroic to engage in research that may give one’s country (adopted or birth) new weapons to help win wars? I think so. Should one talk about the evils of this world that one must fight against and the moral reserves one draws upon through a faith in God? Absolutely. The author, though, does not appear to agree.