Thursday, February 25, 2016


By Michael Paterniti
Random House

Ms. Hen picked this book up by accident because she found it in her house. Sometimes books are left in her house by some chicken or other who has lived there at one time. She was intrigued by the title, and when she found out it is a nonfiction book about driving Albert Einstein’s brain across America, she decided she was interested.

There was something about this book that seems strange to Ms. Hen. The narrator, the man who was driving, first heard about Albert Einstein’s brain in jars in somebody’s house in Kansas, and he became fascinated with it. Unduly fascinated. It was like he was obsessed, but there was no explanation for it.

Michael Paterniti offered to drive Doctor Thomas Harvey, the man who did the autopsy on Albert Einstein, across the country to deliver the brain to Einstein’s granddaughter Evelyn in San Francisco. Paterniti did a lot of research about Einstein before the drive, including trips to England and Japan to interview people obsessed with Einstein and his brain.

The two men travelled across the country together, stopping at various people’s houses and landmarks along the way. Dr. Harvey kept Einstein’s brain in a Tupperware container in the trunk. Paterniti took to telling people they met that they had Einstein’s brain. The reactions from different people varied: at one hotel, the clerk became violently angry about Einstein and the fact that he was considered a genius, and in Las Vegas, a waitress had him kicked out of the casino because she thought he was harassing her when he told her of Einstein’s brain.

This book is not just about the drive across the country; it is also partly a biography of Albert Einstein. When Einstein published the general theory of relativity, he became a worldwide celebrity. Dr. Harvey was supposed to do research to find out if Einstein’s brain was different from a normal brain, but he essentially stole it from the autopsy room, and a lot of scientists could not forgive him for the fact that he pilfered what could be one of the greatest brains in the history of the world.

The writing in this book is excellent. The prose sings. That combined with the fact that the subject is so interesting made this for a quick read. Ms. Hen was drawn into the world of Albert Einstein and the fascination with his brain. Ms. Hen does not know if she would be as excited to be close to Albert Einstein’s brain as some people, but she loved reading about those who were.

When Paterniti first sees the brain in glass jars that Dr. Harvey holds in his hand, he describes it this way, “one at a time pulled out two large glass cookie jars of what looked like chunks of chicken in a golden broth: Einstein’s brain chopped in pieces in sizes that ranged from a turkey neck to a dime.” Ms. Hen likes that Einstein’s brain looks like chunks of chicken. Of course it looks like chicken. What else would it look like? Chickens could be secret geniuses. Perhaps Einstein was really a chicken deep down inside. Perhaps we are all chickens in some Universe, or that’s what we become, in some space-time, as Einstein describes.

This is not the typical book that Ms. Hen reads, but she likes to branch out and try something new once in a while, and she’s glad she did. She has never imagined what it would be like to see Einstein’s brain before reading this, or any brain for that matter, but she can understand the fascination of being close to something perverse and amazing at the same time. Ms. Hen is not perverse and amazing, but she likes to think that she possibly could be one day; she wants to try to strive to have a brain as intelligent as Einstein’s: that is Ms. Hen’s new goal.

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