How many of you grew up encouraged by the thought that Einstein was a poor student in math? While struggling through my math blocks, I often took solace in the thought that one of humanity’s greatest minds had a hard time also.
It isn’t true though, I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein (aff. link):
One widely held belief about Einstein is that he failed math as a student, an assertion that is made, often accompanied by the phrase “as everyone knows,” by scores of books and thousands of websites.
Alas, Einstein’s childhood offers history many savory ironies, but this is not one of them. In 1935, a rabbi in Princeton showed him a clipping of Ripley’s column with the headline “Greatest Living Mathematician Failed in Mathematics.”
Einstein laughed, “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied correctly. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”
As much as I’d like to get warm fuzzies thinking that Einstein struggled with math all his life and still somehow managed to come up with the theories of special and general relativity, this makes more sense to me.
As for the biography itself, I’ve read many books about Einstein, and so far (I’m still early into it) this one has managed to shed some new light about a guy who has been written about hundreds of times. When I first saw the book I thought, “Why do we need another biography about Einstein?”
The answer is, we don’t, but it’s nice to get a different perspective, and this book is providing a fresh one. I’m enjoying it immensely.