Why the English collection of Einstein’s works does not exist. Part IV (Einstein and Lanczos, a comparative study)

The discrepancy between common statements that Einstein is the greatest scientist of all times, named by Times magazine the person of 20th century (died in the middle of century), and the fact that neither by the end of 20th century nor today a collection of his scientific works translated into English exists, is unspeakable.

A few years ago, when we could not believe in non-existence of such a collection and visited our library, we found a few huge book shelves with collected works of many scientists (some names we have never heard). To be more precise, we would like to consider one particular example for some sort of a comparative study, Einstein (1879-1955) and his assistant (Berlin, 1928-1929), Cornelius Lanczos (1893-1974), whose name is not well-known or, at least, much less known to scientists and especially general public. His collected papers were published in 1998:

Cornelius Lanczos, Collected published papers with commentaries, 1998, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, North Carolina State University (6 volumes).

Some brief biographical data of these two men.

Einstein was born in Germany and Lanczos in Austria-Hungary Empire. Both moved to U.S., Lanczos in 1932 and Einstein in 1933 and became U.S. citizens in 1938 and 1939, respectively. Before they moved to U.S., majority of their papers were published in German and in the same journals.

Einstein all time till his death was at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, but Lanczos had more turbulent and shorter carrier in U.S. (Purdue University, Boeing Aircraft Company, the Institute for Numerical Analysis of the National Bureau of Standards). He left U.S. (thanks to senator McCarthy) in 1952 and moved to Ireland, the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (by invitation of the Prime-minister) and worked there till his death (he unexpectedly died during his visit of Hungary).

One can say: wait a moment, both men for more than two decades worked at Institutes for Advanced Studies. Why was Lanczos’s collection published by the North Carolina State University, which is not even listed among organizations where he worked during his stay in U.S.? Lanczos travelled widely during his Dublin’s period, most often to the United States, and he visited NCSU three times during 60s – in 1965, 1967, and 1968, and here, 3 years before anniversary of his birth, in 1990, the work on the collection of his papers was initiated. The anniversary celebration was treated as a two-phase event – the conference and collection. To our knowledge, there were only two 1993 centennial conferences, one in Hungary and another in NCSU, December 12-17, 1993 (Proceedings of the Cornelius Lanczos International Conference, Philadelphia: Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics [SIAM] 1994).

In preface to the collection (section “Origin and Purpose”) it is written:

“…Cornelius Lanczos (1893 – 1974), a physicist and mathematician who had a profound impact on the foundations of twentieth-century science … Lanczos was one of this century’s most versatile and innovative scientific minds … many of Lanczos’s ideas are still of interest to present-day research in physics … The influence of his ideas and contributions will certainly reach well into the twenty-first century.”

and Foreword is concluded by:

“Now Lanczos’s life work has become available for the scholars of the world. Thus, his human message is transferred to the incoming generations.”

A few observations about Lanczos’s collection:

The translation have been carefully formatted page by page to reflect, as nearly as was practical, the original publications.

In a short biographical essay, intention was to provide a guide for readers studying Lanczos’ papers. It is not a biography in the usual sense. Rather, it covers only the most basic information about Lanczos’s life and vicissitudes in order to provide a background for understanding Lanczos’s papers.

The Einstein-Lanczos correspondence (1919-1955) is not a part of this collection because under restriction of the Albert Einstein Archives, only a very limited amount of the material could be quoted, but this did not become the reason to abandon or to postpone the production of Lanczos’s collection.

The question is: would it be a correct statement if someone substitutes Einstein’s name instead of Lanczos in the above quotations from “Origin and Purpose” and “Foreword”? Seems to us that the answer YES was already given. The first phase of Einstein’s centennial celebration, conferences, was enormous and we are aware about many of them, although this list is definitely incomplete (unlike just two dedicated to Lanczos):

1. Some Strangeness in the Proportion. A centennial Symposium to Celebrate the Achievements of Albert Einstein, The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, March 4-9, 1979 (published in 1980, 540 p.) This one was attended by President Jimmy Carter, his Science Advisor, Frank Press, and Federal Minister of Education and Science of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr. J. Schmude.

2. To fulfill a vision, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, March 20-23, 1979 (published in 1980, 400 p.)

3. Einstein. A Centenary Volume, Ed. A.P. French, Heinemann for the International commission on Physics Education, 1979, 332 p.

4. General Relativity. An Einstein centenary survey, Eds. S.W. Hawking and W. Israel, Cambridge University Press, 1979, 919 p.

5. General Relativity and Gravitation. One hundred years after the birth of Albert Einstein. Ed. A. Held, 1980, Plenum Press, 1130 p. (two volumes). A publication of the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation.

6. Einstein Symposion, Berlin (German & English) Lecture Notes in Physics, v. 100, 1979, Springer-Verlag, 550 p.

7. Albert Einstein. His influence on Physics, Philosophy and Politics, 1979, Friedr.Vieweg & Sohn, 220 p.

8. Albert Einstein. Proceedings of the Einstein Centennial Celebration at Memphis State University, 14-16 March, 1979, 1981 Memphis State University Press, 244 p.

9. Gravitation, Quanta and the Universe, Proceeding of the Einstein Centenary Symposium held at Ahmedabad, India, 29 January – 3 February 1979, 1980 Wiley Eastern Limited, 326 p.

10. Альберт Эйнштейн и теория гравитации, Мир, 1979, 592 стр.(Russian) Albert Einstein and the theory of gravitation (dedicated to 100 years after the birth of Albert Einstein ), 592 p.

On all these meetings and in all publications the question about the second phase of celebration, publication of collected scientific works of Einstein, was not raised. In Russian publication the reason for this is quite obvious, the collection was already available (1965-1967).

Perhaps one can say that the statement from Foreword:

“Now Lanczos’s life work has become available for the scholars of the world. Thus, his human message is transferred to the incoming generation.”

is self-illusion of editors of Lanczos’s collection as well as a similar statement of editors of Russian collection of Einstein and, in reality, “who will read this old stuff now?” (see comments to our post 07/09/2912).

To our surprise, on Physics internet-forum, where students asked questions, we found a question, posted a year ago (Sept 18, 2011):

“I need some Einstein’s papers [1923] translated into English. Have you seen anywhere all of his paper translated in English?”

He or she is from seventh generations of physics students after Einstein’s death (10 years in Physics seems to be an appropriate time interval to call “a generation”) who have been just curious or want to see the words of Master or do not want blindly accept Einstein as just an “popular symbol” (Oppenheimer, see our post /09/02/2012) and for many years such students are unable to do what they desire.

Someone on this forum answered the above question:

“The published papers from the 1902-1920 are translated in the collected papers of Albert Einstein … this series is full of junk like private correspondence and such…

It would be good if somebody did a translation of the scientific publications only, leaving the personal junk for another time.”

This is exactly the approach that was taken by editors of Lanczos’s collection (in English) and by editors of Einstein’s collection (in Russian) and from what we know about Lanczos and especially Einstein, were they alive, without doubts they would be in favour of this choice.

The facts are: after three short visits of NCSU by Lanczos (from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies), the collection of his scientific papers was published by NCSU, and Einstein, who spent more than two decades at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, and died in Princeton, two decades before Lanczos, is not in the short list to have his collection published in the near future.

Could anyone, please, explain us and everybody who are looking for Einstein’s papers in English why such a difference exists?

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