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Was Einstein really a loner? In his Alumni Day lecture “Finding Einstein in a Crowd,” history professor Michael Gordin examined the popular image of Einstein “as someone isolated, separate, cloistered, a genius sitting in an ivory tower.”

Instead, Gordin presented an Einstein who was a “fundamentally social person, integrated into a large number of personal networks and engaged with the world around him.” Gordin showed how other people have been cropped out of photographs of Einstein. And he demonstrated how Einstein’s quotes about loneliness have been taken out of context. “Almost every time Einstein says, ‘I like being alone,’ it’s in a speech or in a context at a time when he’s very much worried about politics. The more turbulent and bad politics gets, the more he appreciates the value of being alone.”

“If we want to value Einstein as a brilliant person, we should maybe change our perception of how brilliance comes about, rather than force him into a mold he didn’t belong to,” said Gordin.