cover image Einstein on Race and Racism

Einstein on Race and Racism

Fred Jerome, Rodger Taylor. Rutgers University Press, $23.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8135-3617-0

Albert Einstein was a genius and, apparently, a race man. Drawing upon extensive research, authors Jerome and Taylor-a journalist and a librarian, respectively-show the Nobel Prize-winning physicist to have been fairly active in the civil rights movements of the 1940s. It's clear the authors believe that this fact constitutes some sort of hidden truth, and they're reasonably correct: numerous historians left out the details of Einstein's controversial alliances with W.E.B. Dubois, the NAACP, the Civil Rights Congress and the Southern Conference Educational Fund. The authors saturate the first half of the book with comments from the black inhabitants of Princeton's Witherspoon Street. Their quotes are anecdotal at best and show little more than that Einstein was a friendly man who wasn't afraid of black people. A few of the quotes are telling in ways the authors may not intend: ""My grandmother worked as a domestic for Einstein...When Professor Einstein had visitors, they sat and ate in the dining room; she listened from the kitchen."" Others such as ""me and my sister Lili used to watch Einstein walking up Witherspoon Street"" record merely that black people witnessed Einstein's presence in their neighborhood. Einstein's provocative statements on American bigotry-""Everyone who is not used from childhood to this injustice suffers from the mere observation""-are reserved for the book's second half, which presents his letters and speeches. A useful compilation for students of Einstein's politics, this book lacks the kind of strong narrative thread that might have brought it a wider audience. 8 pages of b&w photos.