As arguably the most important intellectual of his time, Albert Einstein exchanged letters with powerful contemporaries: fellow scientists, heads of state, dignitaries, philosophers. But what most might not know is that he also corresponded with children around the world. That’s right–curious children would write and Einstein would reply, even at the height of his career and influence. Their letters back and forth are touching, honest, often hilarious but also poignant, thanks to the tone Einstein took with every note, never talking down to the children. A selection of these can be found in the book Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters to and from Children, as well as a sprinkling below.
In a 1920 response to the question of what he looked like, Einstein wrote
Let me tell you what I look like: pale face, long hair, and a tiny beginning of a paunch. In addition, an awkward gait, and a cigar in the mouth … and a pen in pocket or hand. But crooked legs and warts he does not have, and so is quite handsome – also no hair on his hands as is so often found with ugly men.
In 1943, a young girl wrote to Einstein about her difficulties with mathematics in school. He encouragingly replied
Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
Professor Albert Einstein.
If you are lucky enough to be in Boston on Sunday and attending the PEN/Hemingway Awards, you’ll get a chance to sneak a peek at a J. D. Salinger letter to Ernest Hemingway. It was written in 1946, when Salinger and Hemingway were serving in Europe during World War II. In it, Salinger addresses Hemingway as “Poppa” and closes the letter by saying that “[t]he talks I had with you here were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business.” Five years later, Salinger published his masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye.