Famous Diary Entries: Einstein Confesses His “One Great Mistake”

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Albert Einstein had an ongoing professional and personal relationship with Linus Pauling, another prominent twentieth century scientist.  The two men greatly admired one another’s genius and spent much time together discussing world affairs. But because many of these conversations were never recorded Pauling was moved after their very last meeting to take hastily-jotted down notes about some of Einstein’s thoughts – and history is, of course, better for it! (Take note everyone: if you tend to have personal conversations with geniuses – keep records!)

Below we have a couple pages from Pauling’s dayplanner after that last meeting of the minds. The entry includes a very revealing note Pauling jotted down about Einstein’s confession of his one great life regret: that, even though he felt there was still ample justification for what he did, he wished he hadn’t signed a letter to President Roosevelt recommending the production of the atom bomb.

The meeting between the two men took place on November 16th, 1954. Here is Pauling’s record of that morning (via):

Notes on Conversation of Linus Pauling with Albert Einstein on 16 November 1954

 

On 16 November 1954 I talked with Albert Einstein at his home in Princeton, for a couple of hours, about various matters, scientific in part, but especially about the world as a whole.

 

When I said goodbye, and left the house, I stopped on the sidewalk and wrote two sentences in my notebook, in order that I would not forget just what he had said to me. One statement that he made that I noted is the following: “Oxenstierna said to his son ‘You would be astonished to know with how little wisdom the world is governed.'”

 

The other sentence about which I made a note is the following: “I made one great mistake in my life – when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them.”

And here below is the entry – the two sentences Pauling wrote sitting on the sidewalk after leaving Einstein’s Princeton home that morning (via):

11:12am – 16 Nov. 54

 

Enstein said to me, “Oxenstena said to his son ‘You would be astonished to know with how little wisdom the world is governed.'”

 

He said he had made one great mistake – when he signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the [not pictured:] danger that the Germans would make them.

 

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4 comments on “Famous Diary Entries: Einstein Confesses His “One Great Mistake”

    • yep so in a way it was a good thing for America to know but on the other hand it was the weapon which cause the cold war.

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