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For immediate release: April 26, 2004
Media contact: Steven Schultz, (609) 258-5729, sschultz@princeton.edu

Editors: A photo is available at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/a-f/einstein/

Newly discovered diary chronicles Einstein's last years

Longtime friend took notes on daily conversations and activities

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Librarians at Princeton University have discovered a diary written by one of Albert Einstein's closest friends, a woman who recorded the scientist's day-to-day thoughts and activities during the last year and a half of his life.

The diary, written by Johanna Fantova, a former Princeton librarian, relates Einstein's musings on subjects, profound and mundane, from physics and current events to the tribulations of growing old. Fantova, who knew Einstein for more than 25 years, chronicled their regular conversations in more than 200 diary entries.

In an introduction to the diary, Fantova wrote that she intended it to "cast some additional light on our understanding of Einstein, not the great man who became a legend during his own lifetime, not on Einstein the renowned scientist, but on Einstein, the humanitarian."

Fantova met Einstein in the 1920s in Europe and then renewed the friendship in the United States during World War II. The two ate dinners and went sailing together in Princeton; she cut his hair, and he wrote poems to her. They also spoke by telephone two or three evenings a week. She compiled notes from their conversations into a 62-page manuscript, which is written in German and covers the period from October 1953 to Einstein's death in April 1955 at age 76.

Fantova tried unsuccessfully to publish the manuscript before her death in 1981, but did not make its existence widely known. A Princeton librarian conducting research on Fantova discovered the manuscript earlier this year in Fantova's archived employment file.

In Fantova's accounts, much of Einstein's attention was devoted to politics of the day. He told Fantova that in his political thinking he was still a "revolutionary" and a "fire-belching Vesuvius." "He expressed himself very decisively about many developments in world politics, felt partially responsible for the creation of the atom bomb, and this responsibility oppressed him greatly," she wrote.

Throughout these years, Einstein was inundated with letters and, despite complaining that "all the maniacs in the world write to me," often responded to strangers asking for autographs and endorsements and attempting to convert him to Christianity. Fantova related how Einstein indulged some requests and turned others down with humor. On his birthday, Einstein received, through regular mail, the gift of a parrot and then became attached to the bird, telling it jokes and naming it Bibo.

The diary also recounts the ups and downs of Einstein's continuing work in physics, with one day bringing excitement over a new idea and the next disappointment over newly discovered mistakes. Einstein described himself as isolated from current physics and mathematics and told Fantova that his latest ideas would not be appreciated until after was dead.

All the recollections in the diary may not be entirely accurate. A preliminary reading revealed at least one mistake in which Fantova described Einstein telephoning his sister, who had died in 1951.

Events leading to the discovery of the Fantova diary began with a donation of other papers related to Fantova more than 10 years ago. Gillett Griffin, a retired curator at the Princeton University Art Museum and mutual friend of Einstein and Fantova, gave the library a collection of papers that included photographs of Einstein and poems and letters that Einstein had sent to Fantova. The library staff recently began work on a series of articles about historic couples for the Princeton University Library Chronicle and planned to feature the Einstein-Fantova poems. In doing research for that publication, retired curator Alfred Bush discovered the Fantova diary in her personnel file.

Fantova wrote that she hesitated for many years to take notes on her conversations with Einstein. "In the last years of his life, however, I was convinced that these monologues were of great interest as historical documents, since they illuminate the man and his era."

When Fantova emigrated from Europe to the United States in 1939, Einstein suggested Fantova pursue library school as a means of support. By 1944, she had completed her training and earned a position in the Princeton University library. In 1954, she was appointed curator of maps. In the meantime, she and Einstein grew closer. According to Griffin, it was Fantova who took responsibility for arranging a quiet, private dinner for Einstein's 75th birthday and for cutting his notoriously wild hair.

Fantova's diary, which is typewritten, is available to researchers through the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in the University library. It has not been formally translated, although the library commissioned an English summary that gives an overview of each day's entry. The diary "will become part of the process of scholarly research, discovery and publication, which, as an institution, we are here to support," said Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts. "I am sure that in time it will be of considerable interest to Einstein biographers."

Note: A longer version of this release appears in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin: http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/04/0426/


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