Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Einstein’s famous theory laid the foundation for modern cosmology and technology such as GPS navigation.

A manuscript written by Albert Einstein, which provides a rare insight into the legendary physicist’s thinking that led to his general theory of relativity, was sold at auction on Tuesday for 11.7 million euros ($ 13.17 million).

The auction house Christie’s estimated the value of the manuscript at between 2 million ($ 2.25 million) and 3 million euros ($ 3.38 million).

The 54-page paper, roughly half-filled with Einstein’s manuscript, is one of only two working documents known in which the thinker approaches his famous theory that laid the foundation for modern cosmology and technology such as Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation.

They were kept by the Swiss physicist Michele Besso, a good friend and academic partner of Einstein, who co-authored the work between 1913 and 1914.

“This is also what makes it particularly important, as work documents by Einstein before 1919 were extremely scarce,” says Vincent Belloy, an expert at Christie’s who presented the auction in Paris.

“Einstein is someone who kept very few notes, so the mere fact that the manuscript survived and made its way to us already makes it absolutely extraordinary,” he added.

The manuscript, composed mainly of endless calculations in black ink on wrinkled, lightly yellowed paper, challenges Einstein’s popular image as an absolute genius, because it shows that even he – at least sometimes – made mistakes.

A page of the Einstein-Besso manuscript is displayed at Christie’s auction house in Paris, France [File: Antony Paone/Reuters]

“Einstein makes mistakes in this manuscript, and I think it makes it even bigger in a way, because we see the perseverance, the thought that was in the process of being built, that is corrected and redirected,” Belloy said.

In May, a handwritten letter in which Einstein mentioned his famous E = mc² equation, part of his earlier theory of special relativity, sold for about one million euros in the United States, more than three times the estimated price.

With his general theory of relativity published in 1915, Einstein revolutionized modern physics when he first described gravity as a geometric distortion of space and time, a finding that remains valid.

Christie’s did not disclose the name of the buyer.

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