When it comes to physicists, Albert Einstein is widely perceived to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Indeed, the iconic Father of Relativity was a global rock star in his lifetime. When he visited Japan in 1922, adoring crowds streamed after him wherever he went.
Einstein was always ill at ease with such adulation. He was so revered that people tended to see him as superhuman. His self-deprecating manner and comments did nothing to puncture his image as the most brilliant man who ever lived.
In today’s celebrity-crazy culture, we routinely deify anyone and everyone who has even the slightest combination of talent and fame. Such idol worship is not only a disservice to them but to us as well, because by elevating these essentially normal human beings above ourselves, we devalue our own lives.
By all accounts, Einstein was a kind, gracious and down-to-earth man. He loved the peace and isolation he found at Princeton University, probably the only place on earth where he could walk around and not be praised and gushed over by passersby every other step.
The following Einstein quotes from the book The New Quotable Einstein offer a revealing glimpse into the humble nature of this legendary figure.
Thanks to my having hit upon the fortunate idea of introducing the relativity principle into physics, you (and others) enormously overestimate my scientific abilities, to the point where this makes me somewhat uncomfortable.
Letter to Arnold Sommerfeld, January 14, 1908 (age 29)
WIth fame I become more and more stupid, which of course is a very common phenomenon.
Letter to Heinrich Zangger, December 1919 (age 40)
It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few individuals for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque.
From an interview for Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 1921 (age 42)
It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault and no merit of my own.
From “What I Believe,” in Forum and Century, 1930 (age 51)
I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.
Letter to Carl Seelig, March 11, 1952 (age 63)
When it came to fame and his desire for normalcy, Einstein had a nice sense of humor as well:
I am an artist’s model.
To a passenger on a train who asked him his occupation, reflecting Einstein’s feeling that he was constantly posing for sculptures and paintings. October 31, 1930 (age 51)
Why is it that nobody understand me, and everybody likes me?
From an interview, New York Times, March 12, 1944 (age 64)
There have already been published by the bucketfuls such brazen lies and utter fictions about me that I would long since have gone to my grave if I had let myself pay attention to them.
Letter to Max Brod, February 22, 1949 (age 69)
Einstein readily acknowledged the sad truth that fame tends to isolate:
It is a strange thing to be so widely known yet be so lonely. But it is a fact that this kind of popularity . . . is forcing its victim into a defensive position which leads to isolation.
Letter to E. Marangoni, October 1, 1952 (age 73)
Ultimately, Einstein longed for a simple, obscure life that would never be his:
If I were a young man again and had to decide how to make a living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. i would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler, in the hope of finding that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.
To The Reporter magazine, November 18, 1954 (age 75)
When I was young, all I wanted and expected from life was to sit quietly in some corner doing my work without the public paying attention to me. And now see what has become of me.
Quoted in Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel
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