Raab in Forbes: Albert Einstein

This article first appeared under Nathan Raab's by-line on Forbes.com at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanraab/2014/10/03/what-albert-einstein-thought-makes-life-worthwhile/

What Albert Einstein Thought Makes Life Worthwhile

In 1951, at the age of 72, Albert Einstein received a letter. It moved him deeply, and caused him to reflect on what, after seven decades of living, made life worthwhile.  He responded with a revealing letter.  The Einstein Papers has no previous record of this correspondence, and it appears in no published biographies of Einstein or other works.  In fact, it remained unknown until this summer, when the descendants of the recipient decided to part with it (my firm, The Raab Collection, handled the sale to a private collector).

Einstein had a lot of correspondence. Why is this different? Einstein’s letters generally fall into a few categories. These are not etched in stone but they serve as a helpful, if general, guide. Einstein wrote on: his scientific work, which spanned from Relativity to the Unified Theory; nuclear proliferation and world peace (although he had been part of the creation of the atomic bomb, he spent his latter years warning against its use); the plight of Jews and other refugees attempting to escape Germany and find a life in the United States; general philosophical concepts; and of course a wide variety of miscellaneous subjects.

The Einstein Papers Project diligently collects his writings and publishes them online and in printed format. These ongoing efforts are at Caltech, Princeton, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. There are thousands and thousands of letters recorded, those to and from the great scientist.

But this exchange was new. And it was deeply personal, a rare glimpse into Einstein’s judgment on the worthiness of a life well lived. So what did Einstein write? Here is his letter, published for the first time, which in just a few words cuts to the heart of the value of living as Einstein saw it, a remarkably powerful statement by perhaps the world’s greatest mind of the 20th century.

August 24, 1951: “I was really moved by your letter. It is true that the number of people striving ardently for the right and the worthwhile things is small. But the existence of these few is what makes life worthwhile.”

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