Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Part III (Princeton University Press versus the Trustees of Einstein’s Estate)

We report here on some new findings: the article by David Dickson “Einstein: disagreement delays publication of collected works”, Nature 278 (22 March 1979) 294-295.

A few quotations:

“…a number of physicists and historians of science, … are concerned that the trustees [Dr. Nathan and Miss Dukas] have interpreted their responsibilities so rigidly as to restrict a full appreciation of Einstein’s contribution to twentieth century science and thought.”

Please note, that this was written in 1979, both trustees were still alive (Otto Nathan (1893-1987) and Helen Dukas (1896–1982)); and 20 years earlier, in 1959, they helped to assemble the microprint collection of Einstein’s papers published by the Readex corporation; and also 15 years earlier, at least, Helen Ducas helped with Russian collection (see our previous posts). The author of the article in Nature was able to obtain opinions of both sides of the story:

“He [Dr. Nathan] says that since a few days after Einstein’s death the estate has been attempting to get a complete edition of the physicist’s writings published, but that he has been ‘blocked again and again’, and that he feels that ‘at the moment we do not know where we are going’.”

Let us present our restoration of these events, based on available to us information. The idea to publish Einstein’s contribution to science came to the trustees right away, but it was “blocked”, and that is why they turned to the Readex corporation and later to Soviet Academy of Science. Probably, Princeton University Press was mainly interested in non-scientific and unpublished letters and manuscripts of Einstein that, of course, should be postponed for the obvious reason: many correspondents were still alive. The first volume of The collected papers of Albert Einstein was published by Princeton University Press in 1987 and this work continues to be in progress. It is incomplete (only up to 1921) and “a full appreciation of Einstein’s contribution to twentieth century science and thought” is vague also in the twenty-first century, but the trustees should not be blamed for this, not now, not, seems to us, in the first place.

The format chosen by Einstein’s Papers Project is different from Readex and Russian collections (that were concentrated on Einstein’s scientific publications) and looks more like a documented biography. Let us give one more quotation:

“It is well known that Einstein himself discouraged biographies, not only because of his modesty, the ironic accusations of publicity seeking by his enemies, and what he saw as attempts to cash in on his fame, as he told to David Reichinstein, but also because he regarded the ‘merely personal’ as simply unimportant.”

Taken from: D.C. Cassidy, Biographies of Einstein: In Einstein Symposion Berlin, Lecture Notes in Physics, 100 (1979) Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg New York, p.490 (German and English). Einstein’s letters to David Reichinstein are freely available at http://www.library.ethz.ch/en/Resources/Digital-collections/Einstein-Online/The-Time-in-Berlin-1914-1933 .

One more article about “press versus trustees” that we found, was published by Science, 213 (1981) 309-311, where the arbitration hearing is described and, in particular, the testimony of John Wheeler who said:

“My Soviet colleagues can turn the chair around and … reach The Collected Papers of Einstein, the four volumes, in Russian, published, of course, before the Soviets had signed the copyright convention.”

Please note that the Readex Corporation was located in New York state, which, we guess, was signatory of the copyright convention and, as Dr. Nathan wrote in his Preface:

“The cooperation of many publishing houses and periodicals throughout the world in giving permission for republication and in offering helpful advice is thankfully acknowledged.”

So, to publish scientific papers of Einstein, the permission was needed from journals, not from trustees (they asked about permission).

Let us continue with Wheeler’s testimony:

“They [Soviets] have a familiarity with these papers [Einstein’s scientific works]. They have a feeling of the history, what came first and what came second, that none of us have except those, rare among us, who can read Russian, and I am not in that category.”

Saying “none of us”, Wheeler referred to phisicists and this situation does not change. Moreover, the chosen format of the Collected papers of Albert Einstein published by Princeton University Press is not for physicists:

“… history of science is fortunate when any group of individuals manages to win support for an ambitious project …” [p.279]

This quotation is taken from a long review of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein [Annals of Science, 68 (2011) 267-280] that perfectly describes the situation: the group of individuals from history of science was, unfortunately, fortunate to win millions of dollars for their project, but “none of us”, outside this group, is a winner.

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