Reading Experiment Surveys: Past and Present – Albert Einstein


Although we really enjoy hearing about the favourite reads of contemporary heroes of literature and science, it’s always interesting to know what those who went before would have had on their bookshelf. As we can’t ask them in person, we’ve done some poking round to find out more about one of the great figures of the past: Albert Einstein.

Happy reading!


Albert Einstein

Which books were on his shelf?

It’s been speculated that one of his favourite books was Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky a pretty kickass 19th century Russian occultist by all accounts. There’s something you’ll never be able to write on your CV.

Did any book change his life?

Einstein wrote in a letter to Mortitz Schlick that he was inspired by Scotland’s son David Hume while formulating his Special Theory of Relativity. If you haven’t sampled any Hume, then have a go at A Treatise of Human Nature in which Hume looks at behaviour through a scientific lens. Like a kid looking at ants through a magnifying glass and then upsetting the church. While reading this, one of the most important books of the Enlightment, please remember to only feel a little bit jealous that Hume started writing it at the age of 16: a time when most people’s analysis of human nature involves not quite knowing what to do with your hands at bus stops.

Would Einstein want me to read more? Like, for definite?

Well, in 1929 he came up with one of his most re-quoted thoughts in an interview with Viereck: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

But then, in an interview with Wisehart, he did also say: “Much reading after a certain age diverts the mind from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking…” So, you know, be careful.

Get Daily Quotes from Albert Einstein: @EinsteinDaily

If there’s someone you’d like us to cover in our Reading Experiment surveys please get in touch or tweet us using the hashtag #readingexperiment and we’ll do our very best to annoy them into giving us some answers.

However, we’d also like to hear about your reading habits: tweet, Facebook or email us your favourite books which involve science. Did any book or poem change your life? If there a scientific subject you’d like to see written about?

If you’re keen for an hour of songs and silliness centering around Albert Einstein, check out Albert Einstein: Relativitvely Speaking (Or the Junior Edition for children and families) at this year’s Science Festival.