112 Mercer Street

Einstein’s house at 112 Mercer Street is located only a short distance from Nassau Street, the main street of this university town. Nassau Street at its western end divides into several avenues, like the trunk of a maple tree that throws many unequal branches simultaneously at one and the same joint. Two of the streets run toward Trenton; if one should walk along one of them, Mercer Street, past the buildings of the Princeton Theological Seminary, he would find Einstein’s house on the left side where the street begins to go downhill. The wooden two-story building stands between not dissimilar neighboring structures. It is unpretentious with a narrow front and stretches into the backyard with its gray-painted sidings. Located in an area of low elevation, it is probably in one of the less comfortable parts of town, hot and humid in the summer. Einstein used to leave the town in the summer months and go to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, but in later years he discontinued his summer departures and stayed home.

Continuing a block or two along the street, one comes to Springfield Street on the left, and this well-shadowed valley would bring Einstein on foot to the Institute for Advanced Study—he had only to choose one of the streets with mansions or well-kept villas, like Battle Road, to turn right and then he could already see the Institute, built in the nineteenth-century style, in red brick, with a cupola and spire, standing out across a field from the approaching visitor. In later years Einstein discontinued his daily walk to the Institute and back and used the Institute vehicle, a kind of small omnibus, which would pick him up as it did other members.

In the Institute he was rather lonely. I once read that Gödel, who used to travel on the same bus, was closest to him of all the members of the Institute. Dr. Kurt Gödel, a mathematician and a great introvert, who lived at the other end of the town, was a silent man, with greying hair, who even in summer bundled himself against drafts, and was certainly of limited inspiration for Einstein who, though solitary, was greatly interested in human contact, warm in handshake, roaring with laughter. Gödel, like other famous mathematicians in the history of this abstract and exact science, produced the feat that made him famous at an early age, in his twenties, only to find the spring dry in the following decades. They could converse on some philosophical subject—I repeatedly saw Gödel on the third floor of the University Library studying books on philosophy or psychology.

A man of very different disposition and much closer to Einstein was V. Bargmann, a theoretical physicist, who was not a member of the Institute, but a professor at Princeton University. He was—and is—an unswerving follower of Einstein, prepared to offer a fierce front to anybody who would challenge Einstein’s theories. I believe that among the physicists in Princeton Bargmann was closest to Einstein while the younger generation of physicists showed a certain skepticism concerning the General Theory of Relativity in view of its apparent conflict with Quantum Theory, and because of Einstein’s rejection of Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy (“God does not play dice”).