The Einstein File J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist

Fred Jerome

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

384 Pages



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From the moment Albert Einstein arrived in the United States in 1933, the year of the Nazis' ascent to power in Germany, until his death in 1955, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, assisted by several other federal agencies, began feverishly collecting "derogatory information" in an effort to undermine the renowned physicist's influence and destroy his reputation. For the first time, Fred Jerome tells the complete story of this anti-Einstein campaign, explains why and how the campaign originated, and provides the first detailed picture of Einstein's little-known political activism.

Despite the popular image of Einstein as an absentminded, head-in-the-clouds genius, he was in fact intensely interested in matters of the larger society and felt it was his duty to use his worldwide fame to help advance the cause of social justice. Einstein was a fervent pacifist, socialist, internationalist, and an outspoken critic of racism (he considered racism America's "worst disease"), as well as a friend of celebrated African Americans Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. As this in-depth study reveals, Einstein dared to use his immense prestige to denounce Joseph McCarthy at the height of the feared senator's power, and publicly urged witnesses to refuse to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).


Praise for The Einstein File

"A highly readable book—investigative journalism that qualifies as academic history. It is also scary."—Harper's Magazine

"A well-written provocative book that could—and should—alter the way Hoover and Einstein are viewed."—The Denver Post

"Vivid and engrossing . . . Everybody in American history should read it."—Frederic Golden, former science editor of Time

"For the first time, we have a book on intelligence gathering of a sort not normally associated with Einstein. With wit and precision, Fred Jerome documents the invasion of privacy of one of America's most prominent citizens."—Robert Schulmann, former Director of the Einstein Papers Project

"A convincing portrayal of Albert Einstein as a purposeful and discriminating political activist who helped turn the tide against McCarthyism during the 1950s."—Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Associate of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University

"The Einstein File is a frightening look at a dark past, hopefully gone forever. It also reestablished Einstein as a committed social activist, antiracist, antiwar critic of capitalism, whose daring extended beyond mathematics."—Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman

"Meticulously researched and beautifully written, The Einstein File details a bleak chapter in this nation's history, when a rogue elephant FBI roughshod over civil liberties, including the rights and privacy of one of the world's great scientists. As the 'war on terrorism' begins to resemble the 'war on communism,' Fred Jerome's highly informative book sounds a profoundly cautionary note."—Gerald Horne, author of Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois

"A compelling page-turner, vividly recalling an infamous time in our history, when even America's most loyal citizens were under suspicion if they were not always in agreement with government policy. After all, it was Einstein who warned Roosevelt about the possibility that Germany could be building an atomic bomb—a fact that seems to have escaped the FBI in its search for Soviet connections. A timely topic, even fifty years later."—Alice Calaprice, editor of The Quotable Einstein and The Expanded Quotable Einstein

"Fred Jerome's investigative gem details the other life of Albert Einstein, a life most of us have never known about, but which made him a prime target of Hoover-McCarthy Gestapoism. Yet despite those hysterical times, and the ominous parallels between then and now, readers of this breakthrough book will draw hope in discovering the strength and courage that complemented Einstein's genius."—Paul Delany, former New York Times reporter and editor and founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists

"Journalist Jerome uses Einstein's 2000-page FBI file plus interviews with people familiar with the case to tell this story. Perhaps the most useful aspect of this excellent book is that it reminds readers of the less-celebrated aspect of Einstein's character: he was ready and willing to participate in the political arena."—Library Journal

"Science journalist Jerome uses information from Einstein's FBI file to explore the scientist's leftist politics. Although the appalling silliness of the FBI investigation of Einstein would have sustained a book in its own right, Jerome focuses instead on the way Einstein lent his name to many issues of the day, including pacifism, Zionism, socialism, and world government. Jerome found that FBI gumshoes stuffed the file with summaries of newspaper articles, supplemented by the tattling of 'confidential informants.' Apparently Hoover sought to link Einstein to Soviet intelligence, which was an idiotic proposition, as Jerome indicates, but served as a pretext for McCarthyite minds to continue snooping. Jerome asserts there is insufficient awareness of Einstein's leftist outlook, but it is his account of the history of the FBI file's compilation that will draw attention to his work, and it is sufficient to interest and outrage anyone."—Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

"Not only did J. Edgar Hoover keep a well-guarded (and sometimes comically erroneous) secret file on Albert Einstein, reveals Jerome, a journalist and consultant to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications, he actively sought to have the physicist deported. Though Einstein was far too popular to be brought down by Hoover's normal smear tactics (even when covertly laundered through congressional committees), his file was filled with 1,800 pages of raw materials. But the lists of organizations he supported (antifascist, pacifist and antiracist) and 'unsavory' people he knew, such as Paul Robeson, lacked bite, since Einstein (unlike his biographers) happily publicized these associations. Accusations of subversive activity ranged from the surreal (mind control and death rays) to carelessly recycled Nazi propaganda. Hoover's only hope lay in exposing Einstein as a Soviet spy, a task he fruitlessly pursued from 1950 to 1955 (when Einstein died). Einstein revealed as anything but politically naïve fought back against this chilling rerun of his experience in Germany 20 years earlier by calling for civil disobedience in resisting McCarthy and the House un-American Activities Committee, the most radical statement by any major figure at the time. Jerome suggests that popular history has been twisted by this encounter. If Hoover utterly failed to limit Einstein's political influence in his lifetime, Jerome argues, he helped depoliticize Einstein's image, reducing his impact on future generations, a process this book should help reverse."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Fred Jerome is senior consultant to the Gene Media Forum, Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University. His articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in many publications including Newsweek and the New York Times. As a reporter in the South during the early 1960s, he covered the exploding Civil Rights movement, and has taught journalism at Columbia and New York University. He is currently teaching a course at The New School titled "Scientists and Rebels." He invented the Media Resource Service in 1980, a widely acclaimed telephone referral service putting thousands of journalists in touch
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  • Fred Jerome

  • Fred Jerome is a senior consultant to the Gene Media Forum, Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University. His articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in many publications, including Newsweek and The New York Times. As a reporter in the South during the early 1960s, he covered the exploding civil rights movement, and, more recently, has taught journalism at Columbia University, New York University, and other New York-area universities. He established the Media Resource Center, a widely acclaimed telephone referral service putting thousands of journalists in touch with scientists.