The National Geographic Channel has begun a new series that they’re calling ‘Genius’. The series will be a ten episode biography of Physicist Albert Einstein and stars Johnny Flynn as Einstein in his teens and twenties and Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as the older Einstein.
The series is being shown Tuesdays at 9PM on Nat Geo and the third episode is coming up this week.
The creative team behind ‘Genius’ are Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the same team that brought us the series “Mars” back last November and December. See my posts of 15Nov16 and 20Dec16 for my reviews. With this cast and behind the camera team you know the series is going to be a first rate production and so far it certainly is.
Now I’m a big fan of Albert Einstein, but I’m not a big fan of biographies. For example, it’s well known that Einstein was not a good student in school. He was the sort of person who learned better on his own, investigating the things that interested him and ignoring anything he found boring. Of course this is true of a lot of us, grammar bored the life out of me and was the bane of my existence back in grade school. This is a common aspect of many person’s schooling, movies and plays have been written about it so why go over it again?
In ‘Genius’ this conflict is the central plot of the first two episodes. Starting school in Germany young Albert finds his instructors to be so stuffy, there’s a quick scene of students memorizing the law of cosines. Transferring to Switzerland he now finds the instructors there refuse to even discuss the latest theories about molecules by Ludwig Boltzmann. We teach facts here, Einstein is told, not theoretical fantasies. Hum, could that be a foreshadowing of some of the conflicts Einstein would have because of his own theories. What do you think? I can’t imagine professors refusing to even allow their students to consider such new ideas.
In my opinion that’s the problem with biographies, the biographer tries to find a coherent theme running through a famous person’s life so they exaggerate details that reinforce the theme and ignore anything that doesn’t. I think a person’s life is too chaotic for that to work.
Then there are the personal details. I didn’t know that Einstein’s family moved to Milan, Italy while Albert was in school and nor in all honesty do I care. I also did not know that Einstein had a girlfriend, whose heart he broke, before meeting his first wife Mileva Maric’, and again, I don’t care. That’s just me, Einstein’s theories are interesting, his love life is not.
There is however, one very controversial part of Einstein’s love life that will probably receive at lot of attention in the next couple of episodes. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how much influence did Mileva have on Albert’s groundbreaking papers in 1905. It’s quite possible that Mileva contributed but the evidence and consensus among historians of science is that she listened to Albert’s ideas more than initiating her own. It will be interesting to see how this controversy is handled in ‘Genius’
I will also be interested in seeing how some of the other scientists who contributed to relativity theory are treated. In particular I want to see if Hendrik Lorentz is given credit for his work on electromagnetic theory and it’s influence on the Special Theory. Indeed when you study Relativity Theory the first equations you learn are the ‘Lorentz Transformation’. Einstein did not meet Lorentz until after publishing his theories so will the show even mention Hendrik?
Nevertheless I will keep watching ‘Genius’ and I certainly recommend it. It’s well done and a show about the life of a great scientist is certainly an improvement over 99.9% of what passes for entertainment on TV.