Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Some new for us facts.

In our previous posts we mentioned a number of times the four-volume Russian collection of Einstein’s papers published in 1965-1967 [1] and even promised (in response to some comments) to share our thoughts on why the English analogue of the Russian collection still does not exist. This post is not our final answer, but we want to present a very interesting piece of information, shocking for us, we came across in our search for Einstein’s view on the existence of gravitational waves in his GR, that shades some light on non-existence of the English collection.

The Russian collection was prepared to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Einstein’s death and 50 years of General Relativity. The same anniversary was marked by the UNESCO colloquium (Paris, December 13-14, 1965) where the director of the Institute of Advance Studies (the last place of Einstein’s work and presumably the place where such a collection should be expected to appear), Robert Oppenheimer, delivered his invited talk in which he, in particular, said:

“His [Einstein’s] early papers are paralyzingly beautiful but they are thoroughly corrupt with errors, and this has delayed the publication of his collected works for almost ten years. A man whose errors can take that long to correct is quite a man.” [2], p. 538, and [3], pp. 279-280.

This is the first document that supports our suspicion that there are some reasons for non-existence of the collected works of Einstein in English because the above quotation directly refers to such a collection, not just some indirect evidence, such as:

“In Princeton they regard me as an old fool” (e.g. Einstein, summer 1936, [4], p. 352);

“Einstein, during my stay in Princeton [1936-1937], was regarded by most of the professors there more like a historic relic than as an active scientist” (Infeld in [4], p. 352);

“He [Professor from Princeton] gave me fatherly advice. If I were hunting for a job in the U.S., I had better not work with Einstein” (Infeld in [4], p. 351);

“He [Oppenheimer, during his directorship 1947-1966 and the last eight years of Einstein’s life, 1947-1955] went so far as to discourage, if not forbid people from taking up these problems [General Relativity] while at the Institute. He likewise discourage Institute members to have contact with Einstein” (Schweber in [2], p. 532).

We guess that Oppenheimer expressed the common opinion, and in such circumstances the production of collected works of Einstein, at least at Princeton, seems to be impossible. In the same time, the number of biographies, books about nonscientific activities of Einstein, and articles in newspapers and magazines are enormous, and this perfectly reflects the view expressed by Oppenheimer already in 1939 in his radio address on the occasion of Einstein’s sixtieth birthday:

“Most of us … are proud to have in Einstein a popular symbol of what we are doing and trying to do … But if few scientific workers would quarrel with the fact that Einstein is in many ways a perfect symbol of their work, there are many who would feel that there is something a little false and fabulous in the way that he is thought of … [T]here is a general impression, supported in part by his eminence, that his work has been qualitatively different from that of his fellow workers; that is abstruse, and remote, and useless. This seems to me a very strange ground for admiration.” [3], p. 530.

This is likely the explanation why the Einstein Papers Project is continuously in progress and its chosen format is the mixture of everything, “Letters to Mistresses, Mom and a Bit of Science” [5], instead of collection of his scientific papers. Seems to us that the following view and course of action prevailed: let us keep Einstein as “a popular symbol” but his scientific results and “the way that he is thought of” is not a “ground for admiration”, and so a collection of his papers that allows to see his way of thoughts is useless. Moreover, continue with such a line of reasonings: it is not for an individual scientist to make his own mind after reading Einstein’s works because science, according to Oppenheimer, is a collective, cooperative (perhaps, corporative) enterprise, and if a consensus was reached about uselessness of Einstein’s views and results, then his collected works are not needed or at least their publication has to be postponed as long as possible or made in the form useless for scientists.

We will not repeat and comment here on all “nice words” about Einstein in Oppenheimer’s speech. This is done and in a very emotional way by Infeld [4a] with somewhat detailed answers to many claims (he counted ten) made by Oppenheimer. Infeld learned about Oppenheimer’s speech during his visit of Dallas (December of 1965) from the newspaper – New York Times, December 14, 1965 [6]. Later the heavily edited version of the speech was published in The New York Review of Books, March 17, 1966 [7]. This version ended by the phrase: “This was a lecture delivered at UNESCO House in Paris on December 13, 1965” – which is not true. Even this polished version was rebutted by Philippe Halsmann (who was a friend of Einstein, but not a scientist) [8]. We have not seen the original French edition of 1967, but in 1971 the English translation was published by UNESCO [9] where the edited version of the speech is presented. The most interesting, detailed article with excellent analysis of the Einstein-Oppenheimer interaction was written by Schweber [2], from which the quotations were taken.

Let us only comment upon 10 years of corrections of Einstein’s errors (of course, we do not accept such a ridiculous explanation), that postponed the publication of the collected works of Einstein, mentioned by Oppenheimer in his speech. In fact, we recently found in the storage of our library the “Collected writings” (1901-1956) of Albert Einstein in the languages of the original publications (607 documents on 151 cards) produced by the Readex microprint corporation (New York) in 1960 (five yeas before Oppenheimer’s speech and the appearance of the first volume of the Russian collection) but, as it is clear from the name of the corporation, this is the microprint collection and without a special equipment it is not possible to read it (in addition, one has to be fluent in a few languages), and nowadays even in libraries such an equipment is difficult to find. How did the Russian editors, who had an opposite opinion about Einstein’s way of thoughts and importance of his research to what was expressed by Oppenheimer, manage to correct Einstein’s papers “corrupt with errors”? Misprints were eliminated, principle mistakes were accompanied by short comments such that:

… this is a mistake and Einstein corrected it in such and such a paper …
… this is Einstein’s opinion in the year of … and later … he changed it to … in …
… later he abandoned/returned to this approach in …, etc. [1]

The short, simple and right solution was found but, according to Infeld:

“The very distinguished professors in Princeton did not understand that Einstein’s mistakes were more important than their correct results” [3], p. 352.

The announcement (with some details) about the Russian collection was made in Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk, in the issue dedicated to the 10th anniversary of Einstein’s death (http://ufn.ru/ru/articles/1965/7/ , see Л.Е. Черняк «О предстоящем издании на русском языке „Собрания научных трудов“ А. Эйнштейна» 86 586–587 (1965)). As it is written in its English edition (http://ufn.ru/en/):

“Physics-Uspekhi (Advances in Physical Sciences) is the English edition (cover-to-cover translation) of the Russian monthly journal Uspekhi Fizicheskikh Nauk (UFN). Translation into English started in 1958 with Russian volume 66. From 1958 until 1992 the journal was published by the American Institute of Physics.”

This is not entirely correct that it represents “cover-to-cover translation”, at least, with respect to the translation of the above mentioned issue: everything dedicated to Einstein, including the announcement about the Russian collection, was omitted in the English version (see http://ufn.ru/en/articles/1966/4/).

The only place, known to us, where the Russian collection was mentioned in English literature is the book “Albert Einstein. Creator & Rebel” by Banesh Hoffmann with the collaboration of Helen Dukas [10], p. 245:

“In 1965-67 the Russians brought out the complete scientific works of Einstein in four volumes. It was the only such collection”.

Helen Dukas, Einstein’s secretary, was not just aware about this collection but helped a lot in its preparation and her help was acknowledged by the Russian editors, e.g. in the editorial preface to the third volume [1]:

Редакция благодарна Элен Дюкас, долго работавшей с Эйнштейном, за большую помощь в подготовке издания.

The Editorial Board is grateful to Helen Ducas, who has worked with Einstein for a long time, for her considerable help in the preparation of this edition.

and to the fourth volume:

Мы благодарны также Элен Дюкас (США) … за сведения о мало известных статьях и изданиях.

We also thank Helen Ducas (USA) … for information about the little-known articles and editions.

In 1972, “it was the only such a collection”, and 40 years later, in 2012, it remains “the only”. The centennial anniversary of Einstein’s GR (2015) is approaching very fast and quite likely will be celebrated, as the 50th anniversary, without a collection of Einstein’s works in English (in the current language of Physics), but new books about Einstein should be expected (it is already started: see e.g., “Einstein’s Jewish Science” [11]; by the way, there are some easily recognizable parallels between “German Physics” of Lenard and “American Physics” of Oppenheimer). All newspapers and magazines will publish editorials about Einstein and numerous conferences will be called with opportunities for many scientists to present their results that either not related to Einstein’s work or directly contradict his, still not easily accessible, scientific views.

In our opinion, if the centennial anniversary of Einstein’s GR will be celebrated without publishing his collected papers, then it means that Oppenheimer’s view prevailed and the conventional belief of physical community is to consider Einstein only as a useful “popular symbol”, trademark of Physics (a la very profitable cult of Hollywood celebrities).

[1] A. Einstein, The Complete Collection of Scientific Papers, Nauka, Moskva, 1965-1967, volumes 1-4 (in Russian).

[2] S.S. Schweber, “Einstein and Oppenheimer: Interactions and Intersections”, Science in Context, 19(4), 513-559 (2006).

[3] S.S. Schweber, “Einstein and Oppenheimer: The Meaning of Genius”, Harvard University Press, 2008;

[4] L. Infeld, “Quest: An Autobiography”, Chelsea Publishing Company, New York, N.Y., 1980. (This book is the second edition of “Quest: The Evolution of a Scientist”, 1941, which did not contain Epilogue where the quoted words were written.)

[4a] L. Infeld, “Why I Left Canada. Reflections on Science and Politic”, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal an London, 1978 (see “Oppenheimer”, pp. 160-180).

[5] “Einstein’s Papers Go Online: Letters to Mistresses, Mom and a Bit of Science”.
Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/03/19/everything-really-is-relative-einsteins-personal-papers-now-a-click-away/#ixzz25Fjz3QSK

[6] “Oppenheimer View Of Einstein Warm But Not Uncritical” by HENRY KAMM, special to the New York Times, The New York Times, Dec 14, 1965, p. 88.

[7] R. Oppenheimer, “On Albert Einstein”, The New York Review of Books, March 17, 1966; http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1966/mar/17/on-albert-einstein/?pagination=false

[8] P. Halsmann, “Einstein. In response to: ‘On Albert Einstein’ from the March 17, 1966 issue; http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1966/may/26/einstein/

[9] “Science and Synthesis”, An International Colloquium organized by Unesco on the Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Albert Einstein and Teilhard de Chardin, Springer-Verlag, New York-Heidelberg-Berlin, 1971.

[10] B. Hoffmann, with the collaboration of Helen Dukas, “Albert Einstein. Creator & Rebel”, A Plume Book, New American Library, New York, London and Scarborough, Ontario, 1972.

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/books/review/einsteins-jewish-science-by-steven-gimbel.html?pagewanted=all

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4 Responses to Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Some new for us facts.

  1. Andrei says:

    Is it possible, that separate non-English works of Einstein were still translated here and there, and the problem is only in colliding things together ?

  2. Sergei Kuzmin says:

    Yes, 72 non-English (German) scientific works of Einstein through 1922 were translated into non-English (Japanese) and were published in Japan between 1922 and 1924 (the four-volume collection) with Einstein’s preface, dated December 1922, to the second volume (Einstein visited Japan, November 20, 1922 – February 1923).

    “The Japanese collection also includes a number of important papers that have never appeared in any translation since their original publication” (this was written in 1962, i.e. before Russian collection) [H.S. Klickstein, A cumulative review of bibliographies of the published writings by Albert Einstein, Journal of the Albert Einstein Medical Center, 10, 1962,141-149].

    There have also been Japanese translations of Einstein’s scientific works subsequent to the collected edition but we are not aware about details and, if you have Japanese friends, you can ask them to clarify the current stage of translations. At this moment, 2012, the Einstein Papers Project (English translation) has reached 1921 year.

  3. Andrei says:

    Can you perhaps mention a couple of examples of Einstein works, which still do not exist in English language ?

    • Sergei Kuzmin says:

      As an example, look at
      and go to “Journal articles”, the second column “Title and English translation [notes 2]”.

      notes 2: “The translations of article titles are generally taken from the published volumes of Einstein’s collected papers. For some articles, however, such official translations are not available; unofficial translations are indicated with a § superscript.”

      Scroll through the second column to see non-Einglish articles with a § superscript.

      However, some articles were translated into English, but because translations are “unofficial” (whatever this means), links are not given here and someone interested in such articles has to wait patiently till official translations become available from Princeton.

      In relation to our research, we were interested in English translations (to quote Einstein in English) of couple articles (of course, they are available in Russian). We found them (they were published after 1921) at http://www.alexander-unzicker.de/ae1930.html, translated to Einglish by Alexander Unzicker and Timothy Case.

      Now we are trying to find English translation of the second short autobiography of Einstein written in the last months of his life (first is well-known one and was translated into Einglish, see “Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist” by P.A. Schilpp):

      Albert Einstein, “Erinnerungen-Souvenirs”, Schweizerische Hochschulzeitung 28 (Sonderheft) (1955), pp. 145-148, pp. 151-153 (http://www.ethistory.ethz.ch/texte/1955Einstein_SHZ.pdf); Reprinted (without two first paragraphs) as, “Autobiographische Skizze” in Seelig Carl, Helle Zeit – Dunkle Zeit. In memorium Albert Einstein, 1956, Zürich: Branschweig: Friedr. Vieweg Sohn/Europa pp. 9-17 http://www.philoscience.unibe.ch/documents/kursarchiv/WS99/Skizze.pdf (we were not able to find, unlike German, a freely accesible English translation).

      Andrei, we cannot claim that there are still some articles of Einstein not translated somewhere into English, although we think that this is the case. In any case, the problem is how to find them. If information is not available, then it is not an information. For us it is a problem only if we want to quote Einstein in English.

      The bottom line is to translate (unofficially) from Russian (unfortunately, our German is almost zero). Our point is – there is no collection of Einstein’s scientific works in English – current language of Physics.

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