by Josef Eisinger

Prometheus Books, $25.00, 280 pages

Given the attention that has been paid to his life, it is rare that a work on Albert Einstein succeeds in casting meaningful light where generations of scholars have treaded before. Still, Einstein on the Road, Josef Eisinger’s engaging account of Einstein’s travels between 1921 and 1933, does just that.

With Einstein’s diaries as his guide, Eisinger constructs a fascinating vision not only of the Nobel laureate’s voyages abroad, but of the social and political climate following the First World War. Eisinger presents Einstein as having occupied a number of roles during this time: a celebrity struggling with his fame; a pacifist committed to demilitarization; a philanthropist devoted to the nascent Hebrew University; and a refugee alienated by the emergence of Nazism in Germany. To this list, Eisinger adds another role: that of the finicky tourist.

Whether in Japan, Jerusalem, or the Americas, Einstein is characterized by Eisinger as a gracious, if at times reluctant, traveler. After trips to Oxford and New York in 1931, for instance, Einstein characterized himself as “the orangutan in the zoo.” Despite an evident discomfort with his celebrity, Einstein persevered – and the result is a book in which his voyages emerge in sparkling, and rewarding, detail.

Jesse Freedman