Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Authors
Books
Features
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Driving Mr. Albert
  • Written by Michael Paterniti
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385333030
  • Our Price: $16.00
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Driving Mr. Albert

Buy now from Random House

  • Driving Mr. Albert
  • Written by Michael Paterniti
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307765352
  • Our Price: $11.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Driving Mr. Albert

Driving Mr. Albert

    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain

Written by Michael PaternitiAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michael Paterniti

eBook

List Price: $11.99

eBook

On Sale: July 24, 2013
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-307-76535-2
Published by : The Dial Press Random House Group
Driving Mr. Albert Cover

Bookmark,
Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Driving Mr. Albert
  • Email this page - Driving Mr. Albert
  • Print this page - Driving Mr. Albert
ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Categories for this book
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
travel (59) science (49) memoir (38) biography (31) non-fiction (28) einstein (28) history (19) humor (14) road trip (11) albert einstein (10) brain (9) fiction (6) travel writing (5) physics (4) pathologists (4)
travel (59) science (49) memoir (38) biography (31) non-fiction (28)
» see more tags
» hide
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Albert Einstein's brain floats in a Tupperware bowl in a gray duffel bag in the trunk of a Buick Skylark barreling across America. Driving the car is journalist Michael Paterniti. Sitting next to him is an eighty-four-year-old pathologist named Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955 -- then simply removed the brain and took it home. And kept it for over forty years.

On a cold February day, the two men and the brain leave New Jersey and light out on I-70 for sunny California, where Einstein's perplexed granddaughter, Evelyn, awaits. And riding along as the imaginary fourth passenger is Einstein himself, an id-driven genius, the original galactic slacker with his head in the stars. Part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part biography, and part meditation, Driving Mr. Albert is one of the most unique road trips in modern literature.

Excerpt

On a cold winter day, during one of my early visits to Dr. Harvey, we drove around Princeton, making the obligatory pilgrimage to 112 Mercer Street, the house where Einstein spent the last twenty years of his life. We sat for awhile with the car running, warm air pouring from the heater, gazing at a modest wood-frame colonial with black shutters on a pleasant block of like houses. More than anything, Einstein said he loved the old place for the light that filled the upstairs rooms and for the gardens out back. He kept pictures of Michaelangelo and Schopenhauer hanging in his study, because, as he said, both men had escaped an everyday life of raw monotony and taken "refuge in a world crowded with images of our own creation."

Sitting in the car, Thomas Harvey recalled hoew the Einstein family gathered here after the scientist's death, how his son, Hans Albert, and Einstein's longtime assistant, Helen Dukas, and Einstein's executor, Otto Nathan, as well as a small group of intimates, drove to a secret spot along the Delaware and scattered the ashes that remained of Albert Einstein's body, And that was it.

Not surprsingly, however, controversy immediately enshrouded the removal of Einstein's brain. Word was leaked by Harvey's former teacher Dr. Zimmerman that Harvey had Einstein's brain, and that he, Zimmerman, was expecting to receive it from his student. When this was reported in The New York Times a day after Einstein's death, Hans Albert, who knew nothing of his father's brain having been removed, was flabbergasted. Otto Nathan expressed regret and shock, and later implied that Harvey was a bald-faced thief. But, according to Harvey, Nathan, who died in 1984, stood by the door of the morgue, watching the entire autopsy. (Nathan would later claim he didn't know what Harvey was up to.)

Meanwhile, Harvey announced in a press conference that he was planning to conduct medical research on the brain. He says he spoke to Hans Albert over the phone, assuring him the brain would be studied for its scientific value, which would then be reported in a medical journal, thus allaying one of the deepest fears of the Einstein family: that the brain would becom a pop-cultural gewgaw. "My one regret is that I didn't come to Mercer Street and talk to Hans Albert in person," Harvey told me that day. "You know, clear things up before it got out of hand."

But things were already out of hand. Zimmerman, then on staff at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, prepared for the delivery of Einstein's brain, but it never arrived. Increasingly flummoxed, then angry and embarrassed, Zimmerman found out that Princeton Hospital, under the direction of a man named John Kauffman, had decided not to relinquish it. "Hospitals Tiff over Brain of Einstein," read one 1955 headline, and went on to describe how the brain remained at "the center of a jurisdictional dispute," with Princeton Hospital standing its ground, like an old-time gunfighter, claiming "the brain wouldn't be taken out of town."

But then, a few years after the autopsy, Harvey was fired from his job for allegedly refusing to give up Einstein's brain to Kauffman. In fact, Harvey had kept the brain himself, not at the hospital, but at home, and when he left Princeton he simply took it with him. Years passed. There were no studies or findings. And, in turn, no legal action was brought against Harvey, as there was no precedence in the courts for the recovery of a brain under such circumstances. And then Harvey fell off the radar screen. When he gave an occasional interview -- in local newspaper articles from 1956 and 1979 and 1988 -- he always repeated that he was about "a year from finishing study on the specimen."

Four decades later, there's still no study. And because somewhere in his watery blue eyes, his genial stumble-footing, and that ineffable cloak of hunched integrity that falls over the old, I find myself feeling for him and can't bring myself to ask the essential questions: Is he a grave-robbing thief or a renegade? A sham or a shaman?
Michael Paterniti

About Michael Paterniti

Michael Paterniti - Driving Mr. Albert
Michael Paterniti is the New York Times bestselling author of Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Harper’s, Outside, Esquire, and GQ, where he works as a correspondent. Paterniti has been nominated eight times for the National Magazine Award, and is the recipient of a NEA grant and two MacDowell Fellowships. He is the co-founder of a children’s storytelling center in Portland, Maine, where he lives with his wife and their three children.
Praise

Praise

"Eccentric, implausible, hilarious, infuriating, and ultimately mesmerizing."
-- The Washington Post Book World

"A splendid peek into the weird side of American life. Driving Mr. Albert is a work of ... uncommon intelligence."
-- Newsweek

"One of the most fascinating and memorable road trips since Kerouac's On the Road."
-- The Denver Post

"Driving Mr. Albert is entertaining, absurd, real, deep and informative ... in a world in which it seems that all the good ideas have been taken, it is singular."
-- The Boston Globe

"Paterniti seems to have been favored by that happy little god of travel writers who sits on one shoulder and whispers ... the perfect anecdotes, the perfect set pieces at the perfect moments. ... It's a brain, in fact, that I'd be happy to travel with again."
-- The New York Times Book Review
About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

At first, journalist Michael Paterniti thought the trip would be a caper, a chance for him to serve as chauffeur on a quirky escapade. His passenger? An eighty-four-year-old pathologist named Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein in 1955–then removed the brain and took it home with him. Forty years later, Paterniti would help him transport the brain coast to coast. The curious cargo lay in the trunk of the rented Buick Skylark, floating in a tub that was zipped securely in Harvey's gray duffel bag. Einstein himself almost seemed to join the road warriors as they set out for California, where the genius's perplexed granddaughter prepared to meet with them.

Between New Jersey and their destination, Paterniti and Harvey found themselves on a nearly mystical excursion, marked by stranger-than-fiction museums, an evening in the living room of legendary beatnik William S. Burroughs, a riled crowd in Vegas, and vistas of nearly every terrain America has to offer. At each turn, the mysteries of Einstein's mind reverberated, raising provocative queries about the nature of legacy and life.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Michael Paterniti's Driving Mr. Albert. We hope they will enrich your experience of this spectacular journey.

Discussion Guides

1. In the book's epigraph, what traits does Virginia Woolf include for her portrait of a "splendid mind?"

2. What parallels did you detect between Einstein's life and Harvey's?

3. Driving Mr. Albert unfolds in some ways like a detective story. What mysteries emerged throughout the book? Were all of them solved?

4. Do you think Thomas Harvey's true motivation in taking this trip was to deliver the brain to Evelyn? Did he and Michael Paterniti share any unspoken personal goals at this point in their lives? What conflicts was Paterniti able to resolve through this trip?

5. What did Part One tell you about the author's upbringing? Did his roots prepare him well for this episode in his life? Did his roots in fact lead him to this episode?

6. How would you characterize Harvey's take on history, as revealed at stops such as the Harry S Truman Presidential Library?

7. Does Harvey seem like a likely character for William S. Burroughs's circle? What portraits of a mind are delivered in chapter 10, "Dr. Senegal, I Presume?"

8. What does the Garden of Eden tour indicate about human perceptions of death and the spectrum of mortuary practices undertaken in America? How did the museum's mission differ from Harvey's?

9. In Chapter 14, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Meat," Paterniti theorizes that Kenji Sugimoto is really Harvey's alter ego. Do you agree?

10. When Harvey lectures before a rowdy audience in San Jose, the experience captures many contemporary issues, including the challenge of engaging students in science. What does Harvey's presentation teach us about reaching a new generation of potential Einsteins?

11. How did you react to Roger Richman and the concept of Einstein's image now being represented by a celebrity-licensing agent?

12. What images of love and relationships are presented in Driving Mr. Albert? How is Paterniti affected by watching the reunion with Raye? What observations does he offer about Einstein's capacity for love?

13. Despite his occasional fears that someone may try to steal the brain, Paterniti often told strangers about his cargo. What are his expectations in making these revelations? How might you have reacted if you had been one of the bystanders he told?

14. How does Evelyn's perspective on the brain differ from the others encountered in the book? How significant is the question of whether she is indeed Einstein's genetic descendant?

15. Discuss the science of Einstein in relation to the book. What metaphors can you find for his notion that all energy has mass? How is the theory of relativity reflected in the way time unfolds for Einstein's brain over its decades-long journey? If his famous equation e=mc2 were applied to the events of your life, how would you define the constant?

16. Reading the book as biography, what new facts did you discover about Einstein's life? How did this depiction of him differ from the one perpetuated by pop culture?

17. What is it about the American road trip that made for such a good medium in exploring Einstein and the story of his brain? Why are so many memorable narratives set against the backdrop of the open road with its chain motels and speed traps?

18. What does Einstein's decision against surgery indicate about his mind-set regarding medicine and mortality at that point in his life? Do you think Einstein would have approved of Harvey as the guardian of his brain?

19. Can a holy grail for intelligence (or any other similar trait) be contained in a specimen such as Einstein's brain? What might a new generation of neuroscientists and pathologists (such as Elliot Krauss, Harvey's final beneficiary) be able to accomplish with Einstein's brain? What twenty-first-century pressures will they face?


  • Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti
  • June 05, 2001
  • Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • $16.00
  • 9780385333030

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: