The Intimate Life of A. Einstein

Letters written during a tumultuous year and unsealed this week offer a rare glimpse inside the heart and mind of the 20th century's greatest genius

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BETTMANN / CORBIS

SECOND WIFE: Einstein with his cousin and wife Elsa (pet name: Else), in 1921

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Einstein's relationship with his family would continue to be intense and volatile, with periods of strain and of affection. In order to dissolve his marriage to Mileva, he offered her a deal: if she agreed to give him a divorce, he would give her the money from the Nobel Prize he fully expected to win someday. She considered the offer for a week, then took the bet. And when he won a few years later, she was able to buy three apartment buildings in Zurich with the money.

Young Eduard (Tete) eventually succumbed to mental illness and was confined to an asylum near Zurich for the rest of his life. Things turned out better for Hans Albert. He went to the Zurich Polytechnic, where his parents had met, studied engineering, and later became a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He would be at the bedside when his father died, 40 years after the tumultuous year when he conquered his theory of gravity while wrestling with the even more mysterious forces that swirled around his family.

Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and a former managing editor of TIME, is writing a biography of Einstein that will be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2007. For more letters, go to time.com/einstein For information about The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, go to www.pupress.princeton.edu

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