Don’t expect to hear a lot about relativity in the final chapter of Albert Einstein’s life story, as told tonight in the season finale of National Geographic Channel’s “Genius” TV series.
But do expect to see a lot about the humanitarian – and all-too-human – side of the 20th century’s best-known scientist.
Even if you’ve missed previous episodes, tonight’s two-hour closer packs in enough drama for a whole season: There’s the struggle to save Einstein’s colleagues from Nazi terror, the race to build the atomic bomb, Einstein’s affair with a Russian spy, and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to discredit him as a communist.
Then there are Einstein’s problematic family relationships, which are resolved in a fast-flowing series of flashbacks and flashforwards. Even the great man’s famously preserved brain plays a cameo.
Clifford Johnson, a theoretical physicist at the University of Southern California who served as a science adviser for the show, says Einstein’s focus on social issues came to the fore in the last 20 years of his life.
“His guiding light seemed to be to remember the humanity, remember the individual’s human rights, remember the dignity,” Johnson said.
That caused Einstein to be conflicted when it came to the political issues of the day: He was a pacifist whose letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt sparked the creation of history’s most destructive weapons. He was a believer in internationalism when the concept was viewed with suspicion. (Not unlike more recent times in American history.)
“He’s known to have a lack of respect for authority that doesn’t have anything behind it except for being authority,” Johnson said. “That scared some people.”
Johnson said Einstein’s latter years hold a lesson for modern-day scientists, many of whom are agonizing over how deeply to get involved in politics and public affairs.
“His science, on the other hand, was, relatively speaking, on the decline,”…