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.
He also kept the 1951 letter of an brutally honest six year-old:
I saw your picture in the paper. I think you ought to have a haircut, so you can look better.
And in some special cases, Einstein enjoyed an ongoing correspondence with his young admirers. In 1946 a bright young South African girl named Tyfanny wrote to the professor about her wish to one day become a scientist. Sadly, though, she counts her gender as an impediment:
I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl. I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the fact. Anyway, I hate dresses and dances and all the kind of rot girls usually like. I much prefer horses and riding. Long ago, before I wanted to become a scientist, I wanted to b e a jockey and ride horses in races. But that was ages ago, now. I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!
To which Einstein replied with the best advice of all,
I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.