Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on October 18, 2016
Source: Purchased, Library
Narrator: Mozhan Marno
Length: 8 hours, 30 minutes
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A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.
What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.
A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.
Why I Read It:
I fell in love with this book cover – I absolutely love it. But I also was interested in the story of a woman living in the shadow of her famous husband. How the heck is this even possible? It seems like a far-fetched thing today, but for women back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it didn’t seem like I had to stretch my mind too hard to imagine this. I wanted to know more.
Before reading The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict, I knew next to nothing about Albert Einstein. I mean, I’ve seen his picture on posters but I didn’t know anything about his private life or about his family. In Marie Benedict’s Author’s Notes for this book, she is very clear that she isn’t trying to diminish Mr. Einstein’s legacy. Rather, she wants to share more about the woman that has lived in his shadow. Since I’ve finished the book, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the story.
I started reading to learn more about Albert Einstein’s first wife, but ultimately I finished having learned more about the life of a woman in science during this time in history.
Mileva Maric met Albert Einstein in Zurich when she was studying physics in college-she was the only woman in her class. While many of her classmates – including her professors – saw her as beneath them in intellect, Albert was fascinated by her. Theirs was a romance that was passionate and fueled by their love for science. They fell in love and Albert promised her that their life together would be that of equals. A bohemian life, he called it. They would be partners.
“Nothing–not even rumors–had prepared these men for actually seeing a woman in their ranks.”
Their partnership didn’t last long. As Mileva’s reputation as a brilliant scientist grew, job offers began to pour in for her, which made Albert feel worthless and jealous. He grew embarrassed and ultimately changed his mind about what he wanted out of his marriage. He no longer wanted an equal partnership – he wanted his wife to stay home and cook, clean, and take care of the children. A “traditional” marriage. But Mileva never lost her desire to work in physics. Even though she loved her family, she felt unfulfilled. She tried to reconcile her marriage with these feelings, but it became very difficult.
Over the course of the marriage, there are non-science-related life-things happening too – things many other couples deal with. For example, mixed in with all of this was a child born before their marriage – almost unheard of in the very early 1900’s – which caused some awful behavior from Albert, plus the fact that when the two worked together, Albert took credit for Mileva’s work.
I’ll stop talking about Mileva and Albert as “the Einsteins” here because that isn’t all. For crying out loud, there is more. I won’t give the details away, but I want to make sure that I am clear that this is a work of fiction, written after the author’s careful research, before I say this: the Albert Einstein in this book is a complete, raging ass. He really was awful.
Whether or not Albert deserves full credit for the Theory and other work in question is fascinating and beyond my scope of knowledge, and quite frankly – it isn’t interesting enough to me to dig really hard for the information at this point. That isn’t what left the biggest impression on me while I read. I was most impacted by Mileva herself, because she had such a hard time just being who she was while she was alive – her brand of “taboo” lifestyle was that she had an education and was smart. That’s the type of fringe-living she was doing, and it was really hard. She had to constantly choose between career and family as a traditional housewife because being a physicist wasn’t much of an option for her. Mileva was underestimated time and time again, and even when she was in the company of peers who knew the reaches of her scientific mind, she was not given the respect and recognition that she deserved. This is the story of how difficult it was for a woman to go to college, have a career, make her own decisions without the input and help of her husband or father, and stand up for herself when she felt she wasn’t being treated fairly. It took Mileva many years to finally start making demands and to make some changes for herself, and it was painful to watch her live in Albert’s shadow, undermined and looked over. Mileva’s story is a reminder for me to be thankful for all of the women that have gone before me, that paved the way for me to do everything that I have done and will do, whether I choose to work outside of my home or inside of it.
I was also impacted because Mileva felt that she had no voice. She had a hard time figuring out when it was appropriate just to speak, just to say words – because she was a woman. This makes me sick to my stomach, but it was something that she was tormented with throughout this story. I can’t even imagine.
“Should we voice opinions, I wondered, or wait until asked. I worried that Mr. Grossman and Mr. Besso would misinterpret my shyness for sullenness or ignorance, but I didn’t want to be overbold either.”
It breaks my heart that I had never heard of Mileva Maric before this book, but I love that Marie Benedict has given her new life in this book and I’m happy that I know about her now. It almost makes me laugh at myself, just how enraged I felt while I was reading; there are so many different parts of her life with her husband that are just not okay. Things felt unfair and I was so upset on her behalf. At two different places in the story, I had to put the book down and pace the floors of my house for a few minutes. That may sound a little crazy to some of you, but I read with my whole emotional self, and I love that this book made me feel this story so deeply.
I have put this book on my favorites shelf. I loved it. It is unfortunate that this is probably how Mileva’s scientific life and her life with Albert unfolded, but I truly loved reading about it. Her story broke my heart, but I loved this book. I’m genuinely excited to see what Marie Benedict comes up with next. I have my eye on her next release, Carnegie’s Maid. I liked The Other Einstein so much that I’ll be watching for it and will absolutely grab it the first chance I get.
I added a library-loan copy of The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict audiobook to my print read and LOVED it. The audiobook is 8 hours, 30 minutes, Unabridged. It is narrated by Mozhan Marno, who narrates beautifully. She has a great voice for audio and while I most often listen to audio and follow along with the print copy, I found myself listening to fairly large chunks of the audio without my book because because I loved the narration. I loved the way the narrator pronounced some of the tricky European word translations (like street names and city names from all across Europe); I would have stumbled over these words without Marno’s lovely pronunciation because I do not speak any of the languages.