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Don’t Heed the Haters: Albert Einstein’s Wonderful Letter of Support to Marie Curie in the Midst of Scandal
“If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.”
Few things are more disheartening to witness than the bile which small-spirited people of inferior talent often direct at those endowed with genius. And few things are more heartening to witness than the solidarity and support which kindred spirits of goodwill extend to those targeted by such loathsome attacks.
In 1903, Marie Curie (November 7, 1867–July 4, 1934) became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. It was awarded jointly to her and her husband, Pierre, for their pioneering research on radioactivity. On April 19, 1906, she was widowed by an accident all the more tragic for its improbability. While crossing a busy Parisian street on a rainy night, Pierre slipped, fell under a horse-drawn cart, and was killed instantly. Curie grieved for years.
In 1910, she found solace in Pierre’s protégé — a young physics professor named Paul Langevin, married to but separated from a woman who physically abused him. They became lovers. Enraged, Langevin’s wife hired someone to break into the apartment where the two met and steal their love letters, which she promptly leaked to the so-called press. The press eviscerated Curie and portrayed her as “a foreign Jewish homewrecker.”
Upon returning from a historic invitation-only science conference in Brussels, where she had met Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879–April 18 1955), Curie found an angry mob in front of her home in Paris. She and her daughters were forced to stay with a family friend.
Einstein considered Curie “an unpretentious honest person” with a “sparkling intelligence.” When he got news of the scandal, he was outraged by the tastelessness and cruelty of the press — the tabloids had stripped a private situation of all humanity and nuance, and brought it into the public realm with the deliberate intention of destroying Curie’s scientific reputation.
A master of beautiful consolatory letters and a champion of kindness as a central animating motive of life, Einstein wrote to Curie with wholehearted solidarity and support, encouraging her not to give any credence to the hateful commentaries in the press. The letter, found in Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography Einstein: His Life and Universe (public library), is a testament to the generosity of spirit that accompanied Einstein’s unparalleled intellect — a masterwork of what he himself termed “spiritual genius.”
Einstein, who would later remark that “Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted,” writes:
Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,
Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say. But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling. However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism! I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels. Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact. If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.
With most amicable regards to you, Langevin, and Perrin, yours very truly,
Shortly after the scandal, Curie received her second Nobel Prize — this time in chemistry, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. To this day the only person awarded a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, she endures as one of humanity’s most visionary and beloved minds. The journalists who showered her with bile are known to none and deplored by all.
Complement with Kierkegaard on why haters hate and Anne Lamott’s definitive manifesto for how to handle them, then revisit Mark Twain’s witty and wise letter of support to Helen Keller when she was wrongly accused of plagiarism and Frida Kahlo’s compassionate letter to Georgia O’Keeffe after the American painter was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown.
Credit: Brain Pickings
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Elon Musk Reading List
Elon Musk is one of the greatest minds of our time. He is the Founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturing company, which claims that it can drastically cut spaceflight costs “by a factor of 100” and is currently being tested. The goal of SpaceX is to create the technology to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonisation of Mars. In fact, SpaceX might beat ISRO by developing cheaper technology and we all know that he is the genius mind behind Tesla as well.
In addition to being a brilliant businessman, Elon is also an avid reader. In fact, when he was once asked how he learned how to build rockets, he replied that he reads books. So for all entrepreneurs who want to follow in his footsteps, here’s a list of his favourite books that might inspire you.
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
Elon has admitted that he faced a tremendous existential crisis between the ages of 12 and 15. During this time, he resorted mostly to science fiction and fantasy novels. He said that the heroes of these stories helped him shape his vision to save the world. As Galadriel would put it, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life - Walter Isaacson
Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United States. A renowned polymath with skills in writing, printing, statesmanship and diplomacy, he was also well known for his inventions of the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove. Although he was born in South Africa, Elon moved to the Unites States, where he completed his education, founded his businesses and gained citizenship. Writing on Elon’s reading list on Inc., Contributing Editor Geoffrey James says, “Musk probably sees Franklin as the type of American he himself would like to be and become: a combination of statesman, inventor and businessman.”
Einstein: His Life and Universe – Walter Isaacson
Being a keen student of science, Elon looks up to Einstein as a source of inspiration, and this book offers an insight into Einstein’s life as well as science, in general. One of the most famous quotes from the book goes as follows:
"An appreciation for the methods of science is a useful asset for a responsible citizenry. What science teaches us, very significantly, is the correlation between factual evidence and general theories, something well illustrated in Einstein's life. In addition, an appreciation for the glories of science is a joyful trait for a good society. It helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for wonder, about such ordinary things as falling apples and elevators that characterises Einstein."
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies – Nick Bostrom
Elon has called artificial intelligence “our biggest existential threat”. In this book, Nick Bostrom explains his view on what would happen if computational intelligence surpassed human intelligence. It’s no wonder that Elon, who has always advised exercising caution while using artificial intelligence, is interested in this book. In fact, a lot of his thinking appears to be based on the themes addressed in this book.
The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov
In an interview with The Guardian, Elon said that this book taught him an important lesson: “The lessons of history would suggest that civilisations move in cycles. You can track that back quite far – the Babylonians, the Sumerians, followed by the Egyptians, the Romans, China. We’re obviously in a very upward cycle right now, and hopefully that remains the case. But it may not. There could be some series of events that cause that technology level to decline. Given that this is the first time in 4.5 billion years where it’s been possible for humanity to extend life beyond Earth, it seems like we’d be wise to act while the window was open and not count on the fact it will be open a long time.”