This is a rare scientific working paper. A manuscript by the famous physicist Albert Einstein, in which he prepared his theory of general relativity, was auctioned for a record sum of 11.6 million euros (with fees), Tuesday, November 23, in Paris.
Previous records for an Einstein manuscript were $ 2.8 million (2.4 million euros) in 2018 for a letter on God, and $ 1.56 million (1.39 million euros) in 2017 in Jerusalem for a letter on the secret of happiness.
The document sold on Tuesday was estimated between two and three million euros. This autograph manuscript of 54 pages was written between 1913 and 1914, in Zurich (Switzerland), by the German-born physicist and his collaborator and confidant, Michele Besso.
Rare autograph document
“Einstein’s scientific autograph documents from this period, and more generally from before 1919, are extremely rare”, underlined Christie’s before the sale, at which the auction for the house Aguttes took place.
These started at 1.5 million and flew in a few minutes, ending with a battle between two buyers over the phone in increments of 200,000 euros. The nationality of the purchaser was not known in the early evening. A hundred curious and collectors were present in the room, none of them being a bidder.
According to Christie’s, it is thanks to Besso that “The manuscript has, almost miraculously, come down to us: Einstein probably wouldn’t have bothered to keep what might appear to him to be a working document”.
After his special theory of relativity, which made him demonstrate in 1905 the famous formula E = mc², Einstein began to work on a theory of general relativity. This theory of gravity, finally published in November 1915, revolutionized our understanding of the universe. Died in 1955 at the age of 76, Einstein has become a symbol of scientific genius as much as a pop figure, with the famous 1951 photo where he sticks his tongue out.
The manuscript has “a number of errors”
In early 1913, he and Besso “Tackle one of the problems that the scientific community has faced for decades: the anomaly of the orbit of the planet Mercury”, recalls Christie’s. The two scientists will solve this riddle.
It is not in the calculations lying on this manuscript, which count “A number of errors that went unnoticed”. When Einstein spotted them, he no longer cared about this manuscript, taken away by Besso.
“Being one of only two working manuscripts documenting the genesis of the theory of general relativity that has come down to us, it is an extraordinary testimony to Einstein’s work and allows us a fascinating dive into the mind of the greatest scientist. from XXe century “, according to Christie’s.
The other known document of this crucial period in the physicist’s research, known as the “Zurich notebook” (late 1912, early 1913), is in fact kept in the Einstein archives of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.