Einstein At Home by Friedrich Herneck translated by Josef Eisinger (book review).

May 30, 2016 | By | Reply More

Just when you thought you knew everything about Albert Einstein, this book, ‘Einstein At Home’ by Friedrich Herneck translated by Josef Eisinger written, originally in 1978, adds to the detail. Factually, this book only covers Einstein and his family while they lived in Germany for six years and comes from five interviews with their housekeeper, Herta Schiefelbein, when she was twenty-one. Their previous housekeeper fled with some silver objects before leaving and his second wife, Elsa, struck up a rapport with Herta while looking for a replacement. Herta reveals that she was no cook but impressed the Einsteins with their first meal and was literally taken into the family.


Before we get to that, we get a potted history of Einstein’s life, family, friends and a touch of his science. From there, we are pretty much into the home life. Not that Herta was a snoop. Far from it. However, she knew the layout of their apartment and where Einstein worked. He played the violin at night to get himself in the right frame of mind for his discoveries, often playing in the kitchen because the tiles gave a good resonance. He was a very private person, not wanting many visitors, although from her reminisces I don’t think he was lucky that way but he met many influential people. There were also the occasional sit-down parties that she catered for. As Einstein never had time to go and get a haircut, his wife did it with varying results.

Interestingly, Professor János Plesh did suggest to Herta that she ought to keep a diary of her experiences but she didn’t. From what she describes later, Herta doesn’t appear to be a particularly material woman. Even so, seeing her memories fills in a lot of details. Einstein was never good with other languages outside of German and only mastered 300 English words and depended on an interpreter overseas. I didn’t realise he was also good at poetry and you get to see both the original German and English translation of a couple pieces. As an eye witness, Herta also when asked corrects several books on Einstein that never happened. Who better than an eye-witness?

Prior to World War Two, when the Einsteins moved to America at short notice, Herta was interrogated once by the police on the Gestapo’s behalf who wanted to get some dirt on him. Very cleverly, she included names of people he had as visitors but whose sympathies later lied with the Nazis or certainly against the Jews so they would be included if there was any trouble. After the war, she wrote to the Einsteins who were happy she survived and supplied her with food parcels, knowing how poor the food supplies were in Germany.

I have to confess that I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this book prior to reading it but happy to report that I have it rather interesting. If you thought that geniuses just had a sudden insight that go things going then you would be sadly misinformed. Reading behind the lines of the book, Einstein spent a lot of time in distracted thinking, forgoing anything else and often needed his music or small boat to go sailing to give himself time to think. Certainly, some of his eccentricities in clothes and such marked him as having little interest in material things other than comfort.

Areas of the interviews did feel a little like an interrogation but I ended up putting that down to the way Germans speak to each other. Certainly, Herta wasn’t afraid to speak her own mind or even correct Herneck when his information was wrong. For a housekeeper, Herta comes across as very smart and you can’t help wonder if that was part of her appeal to them.

Don’t expect any great revelations but you will get some insight into how Einstein led his life and probably surmise, like me, that we are seeing signs of geekiness even in him.

GF Willmetts

May 2016

(pub: Prometheus Books. 204 page indexed with photo insert enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-146-4)

check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com

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Category: Books, Science

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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