Pupils at the Albert Einstein Middle School in Sacramento, California are not allowed to wear sandals without socks. Einstein himself would have been sent home to change, sandals without socks being his default footwear. On the cover of Dear Prof. Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children, however, he is shown sitting cross-legged on a stoop, a benign grin on his face and a pair of fluffy slippers on his feet. The book, edited by Alice Calaprice (Prometheus, $24), is a 'small sampling' of letters that Einstein received from children, and some of his replies. 'I would have written ages ago,' a girl called Tyfanny wrote, 'only I was not aware that you were still alive.' In answer to Monique from New York, who asked him when the world would end, Einstein said: 'Wait and see!' Let's hope we still have a while longer to wait. A small group of children, in defiance of their classmates and, presumably, their teacher, too, insisted that life on earth could survive the extinction of the sun. Who better to arbitrate than the world's greatest living scientist? 'The minority is sometimes right,' Einstein replied, 'but not in your case.' It's the sort of thing one occasionally feels like saying to one's leaders.
LRB 20 March 2003 | PDF Download