Albert Einstein may have been a genius, but when it came to relationships, he was just as clueless as the rest of us—maybe even more so.In a letter written near the end of his life to the family of his closest friend, Michele Besso, the great physicist shared poignant regrets about his two marriages and mused on the rarity of combining a “sharp intelligence” with a “harmonious life.” One of a cache of 56 letters that will be auctioned off by Christie’s next month, the letter offers a rare glimpse into Einstein’s feelings about his complicated love life, which included a bitter breakup with his first wife, a second marriage to his first cousin and an affair with a suspected Russian spy.Einstein and Michele Besso first met as students in Zurich in the late 1890s, and later became close friends while working together at the Swiss federal patent office in Bern.In 1905, when he published the four papers that would forever change our understanding of the universe, Einstein acknowledged only one collaborator: Besso.But it wasn’t all science talk between the two men.
Thanks to Besso and Zangger’s intervention, Einstein changed his mind and rescheduled the trip.
In a letter to Besso in July 1916, Einstein thanks his friend for being there for Milena and his kids, while at the same time asserting that separating from her was the only way for him to avert a breakdown.
(Being Einstein, he concluded that letter with a joke about quantum theory.) Again and again, Einstein’s letters to Besso reveal a human side to the great scientist.
He worried about money; he discussed his son’s education; he rescheduled plans to meet up.
In 1936, after not writing to his friend for several years, he explained the delay by citing the “mathematical imp” sitting on his neck.