Leading article: Frail genius

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Why do we relish these stories? Some say it's because we non-geniuses need to be comforted by our superior ability to get from A to B even if we're a bit shaky on E, M and C. They should know that Einstein considered his second greatest idea had been to boil an egg in his soup to save on the washing-up.

I prefer to think we appreciate the frailties of great men and women out of a fellow feeling for the frustrations and ironies of our predicament. And what better example than Einstein, who, ultimately, failed in his attempt to find an answer for everything, and who, even in his theory of relativity, could make the simplest of errors in division, and whose beloved violin playing was criticised because he didn't seem able to count?

Here was a man, though, who thought imagination more important than knowledge, and, top tip, never memorised anything that could be looked up in fewer than two minutes. The pipe smoking, too, was justified on the basis that it contributed "to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs". Indeed: compare and contrast, Harold Wilson, Tony Blair, Vietnam, Iraq, pipe, no pipe.

Nevertheless, we can be proud that Einstein never matched his splendid precursor, Newton, who also invented the cat flap, making a hole for each of his cats.