Sunday, February 26, 2012

That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.

Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain

Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti

The Story:
Paterniti is a journalist who hears a rumor/urban legend that some guy in Kansas has Albert Einstein's brain floating in a jar in his basement. One thing leads to another and he winds up meeting the man who does in fact, keep Einstein's brain in a jar. Again, one thing leads to another, and Paterniti offers to drive Thomas Harvey across the country to California, so he can meet with Evelyn Einstein -- Albert's granddaughter. The book is the true story of their trip.

The review:
The idea is fascinating. A pathologist did an autopsy on Albert Einstein, removed his brain, and then stuck it in a jar of formaldehyde and took it home. Thirty years later, he feels some guilt over this, so he decides to take the brain to the living descendant.

But that isn't really the story that Paterniti tells. He is focused on himself and his role in the trip rather than on Harvey or Einstein. We do get a lot of information about Harvey -- in which he seems like a total wacko and not completely there -- and a lot of information about Einstein -- some of it is flattering, about how he completely rewrote our understanding of science and the world, and some of it is about how he was a wacko. Along with the information about Einstein, we get information about his estate currently, the man who controls the Einstein image, how often Einstein is used for marketing, etc, etc.

With all this going on in a 200 page book, it is really jumpy and incomplete. Paterniti moved to so many different topics, that at one point I was looking at the page and thinking "What the heck is he talking about?" And despite the short length of the book, it was really slow to read.

Final review:
I was disappointed, so I don't really recommend it.

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