Einstein: The Man and The Genius

What Does Einstein's Handwriting Tell Us About His Personality?

We know so much about Albert Einstein, from his Theory of Relativity to his role in kickstarting the Manhattan Project to his love of the violin. Despite what has been written and recorded about the genius, do we really know what was going on beneath the surface?

To try to learn more about the 20th-century titan, Curiosity obtained a page of Einstein's equations and doodles from the Historical Society of Princeton. It was drawn in the early 1950s. We shared the image with three handwriting experts from around the world to get their analyses. And to make things more interesting, we didn't tell the experts the identity of the author until after their investigations. In some cases, the experts asked us for an age and a gender, but that was the only information Curiosity provided.

The experts analyzed:

  • Einstein's handwriting.
  • His doodle of the sailboat.
  • His drawing of a woman.
  • And his drawing of the "bird-creature" speaking German.

Analyzing the Handwriting

"This is a guy who has deep powers of concentration and is usually quite skeptical," said handwriting expert Dale Roberts. "Things need to be proven to him and he is not satisfied with superficial answers. He has a 'probing' mind and thinks complicated thoughts that would be beyond most of the population."

Expert graphologist Tracey Trussell came to similar conclusions. "The limited sample of handwriting tells us that the writer is an empirical thinker, driven by logic, hands on, and utterly focused on his goals."

How can we make these observations based on a few equations? Trussell explains what she was able to pull from Einstein's pen strokes. "The microscopic size and fairly balanced upper and lower zones, where the middle zone (the letters that sit on the baseline) is least represented and therefore disproportionately small, tells us that he's an expert in his field and further driven by precision, motivated by getting things accurately spot on," Trussell said. "The right slant and joined-up writing enhances his ambitious motives and need to be highly proactive, logical and methodical in his approach; although the falling baselines tell us that all this hard cerebral work is exhausting! He's completely worn out, and possibly a little depressed."

What was he writing? The museum tells Curiosity that Princeton University physics professors believe the handwritten portions are essentially some equations of general relativity, but with just one page of work, it's hard to say exactly what problem he is solving.


The experts had some interesting theories on what the doodle represented. Even the location of the drawing raises gives us a hint into Einstein's mindset. Trussell says, "The placement of his doodles, or Freudian slips, is on the left-hand side of the page, immediately revealing that the author's priority is associated with the past. It may well be that the only connection between these three apparently random doodles is a timeline linking them all."

Certified Master Graphologist Kathi McKnight agrees. "The placement of the doodle is on the left side of the page [suggests] an emphasis on the past as well as an inner reserve."

Come Sail Away

McKnight believes drawings of "sailboats reveal a desire to escape and preferably in a way that is pleasurable."

Trussell dives deeper, saying the ship represents a "desire to flee from the past, and to escape from the emotions and situations he found himself in. It's indicative of ambition, and determination to release energy through work and achievement. The sailing ship, touching the margin, also means that he's remembering the loneliness he felt in his youth, and the emotion it caused him. The angular shapes in the sails reveal the doodler's clear thinking processes and determination."

Mystery Maiden

All three experts were most fascinated by the drawing of the woman. Each drew significant conclusions from her appearance. Was this someone Einstein knew or just a figment of his imagination?

Roberts reports, "His 'doodle' would also indicate that he admires from afar and has some respect for boundaries, but that he has an eye for the ladies. He likes them to be full-figured yet is circumspect. It's easy to see that his 'bathing beauty' isn't wearing a bikini; he appreciates the female form, yet he likes some things left to the imagination. Like most guys, he's very visual and has little difficulty feeling attraction to a woman whether he knows her well or not."

"An umbrella is a protective covering, as is the cap on the woman's head," McKnight said. "Interesting to note the umbrella is poised to protect if she were to take a step forward. It is not positioned directly above where she is currently, sturdily planted. This is reflective of what is going on with the writer. So she is either getting ready to hand the protection off to someone that we can't see to help them or she is positioning self-protection in front of her if she decides to move forward."

Trussell guessed that the woman represented Einstein's mother. "The arcade shapes within the umbrella held high in the realms of the mind further enhance this interpretation of mystery and deep emotion and secrecy. There are further arcades in the silhouette of the mother figure, and her sturdy boots, shrouding her deeper in mystery."

Who is it? The woman in the image is Hanna Fantova, Einstein's "lady friend," on a beach. Toward the end of his life, Einstein gave Fantova quite a few pieces of his writing that he knew would be worth significant money after he died. It was a sort of life insurance policy for her. Einstein intended for Fantova to sell them, but she kept them as mementos.

It's a Bird... It's a Monster... It's a Something...

To the right of the drawing of Fantova, we see a weird face. Not knowing the mystery artist's identity made this a challenge for the experts.

McKnight said, "The odd little monster to the side has a lot of heavy shading and a hashtag for a nose. Could this writer be on Twitter often?" Although Albert Einstein does have an official Twitter page, he never had the pleasure of distilling his thoughts into 140 characters and getting slammed by trolls.

"There's a doodle of a crude, circular, stand-alone large composite face - part human (with ears and glasses), part bird (with a beak) - facing forwards and sitting on short sticks on the baseline of reality - and I suspect this represents the author," Trussell correctly deduces.

"This imagery shows he's incredibly focused, and craving attention for his work. There's some German writing above which is illegible (could it say "Ich bab's" or 'Ich hab's"?). The heart-shaped mouth is wide open and filled in with ink. This means that thoughts and ideas have been going round and round in his head, but now he's had a Eureka moment and he's 'cracked it'!" Trussell said.

"Whether this is the meaning of life, or simply the mathematical/scientific formulae on the right hand side of the page he's been working so hard on, we may never know, but whatever it is has tired him greatly. Yet he wants to shout it from the rooftops! He wants to let it all out and share his knowledge with everyone. He wants attention and he's implicitly asking for recognition and appreciation of his work," Trussell said.

What's the face? Though Einstein was known to doodle frequently on his sheets of equations, these doodles feature the only known self-portrait of Albert Einstein. You can see his face with the speech bubble, "Ich hab's," which is German for, "I have it!" or, "Eureka!"

Digging Deeper

What else does this page tell us about Einstein's mindset?

Trussell points to the isolated and apparently unconnected doodles as revealing a "more creative, highly experimental, and intuitive side" As for his writing, "There is much evidence of frustration, of the writer being stuck within one segment of the problem. He's obsessed with resolving an issue. He's either brooding about what's gone before - what's happened in the past to his family - or he is fixated and frustrated with resolving the equation in the present. It could be either. It could be both."

"He's tough on himself, but not brutal," Roberts said. "When he makes a mistake he can forget it and move on. Though he likes to talk, things that really bother him are usually kept below the surface. He also tended to be tight with money and not obsessed with details he doesn't feel are important. He also doesn't have a lot of use for authority figures. At his core he's more of an introvert, choosing his friends carefully and not allowing them to choose him."

"Darkening or heavily shaded areas in a doodle represents serious thoughts or depression," McKnight said. That said, Einstein's logical mind comes through even in the drawing of Fantova's skirt. "Circles in doodles represent a softer approach to problem solving . The circles are not only in a row but they are contained within two straight lines on the lower part of the skirt. Again, this doodler prefers problems to be resolved neatly and without mess."

The Reaction

After the experts submitted their analyses, Curiosity revealed the identity of the mystery author.

"If you had asked me who I guessed this to be, Albert Einstein would have been near the top of my list," Roberts said. "Learning that it is indeed Albert Einstein confirms to an even greater extent what I would view to be true of him. Few would have the mental capacity to think in mathematical terms at the level that he does, but the doodles have told us that he had a multi-faceted personality. Learning that the woman in his drawing is his long-time lady friend (Hannah) confirms that though he was very 'visual' and appreciated the feminine form, he had respect and was very observant. A lot of his life was lived 'inwardly' as is true of most introverts."

"Here's just one interpretation I omitted that perhaps would have nailed the analysis - the tongue sticking out of Hanna's mouth," Trussell said. "It's a sexual symbol that I didn't think was appropriate to associate with his mother! Albert Einstein clearly loved his lady friend very deeply...and his own ego was firm too."

To get a better understanding of everybody's favorite genius, check out the biography "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

For more information about Curiosity's exploration into Einstein's handwriting, contact press@curiosity.com.

Einstein Papers Project

Written by Ben Bowman September 16, 2017

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