More generally, Zionists come off a bit too “wily,” to use Rosenkranz’s word—they seem scheming rather than bold, ambitious rather than passionate. Rosenkranz tends to downplay the degree to which most Zionists stressed the practical value of a Jewish homeland—as though all anybody wanted was an excuse to plant a flag. In the early years of the modern Zionist movement, the desire for a Jewish settlement, rather than for a formal nation, was hardly limited to Einstein.

Though much in the world changed after 1933, the great scientist’s core values did not. Even in 1938, he declared that he “would rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state.” It is also striking that in 1952, after Chaim Weizmann’s death, he turned down David Ben Gurion’s offer of the presidency of Israel. In his letter to Ben Gurion, Einstein (who never became a citizen of Israel) noted that his sense of camaraderie with Jews was his “strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.” Then why not become president? As a reason for his refusal, he cited his lack of political aptitude for the position, even though it was largely symbolic. But Rosenkranz offers a better answer: that Einstein still preferred to relate to his “comrades” by way of a nationless humanism—one all too rare in a century of world wars.

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Jeremy Axelrod is the assistant editor of Parnassus: Poetry in Review. His writing has appeared in Commentary, The Yale Review, The New York Sun, The New Atlantis, and elsewhere.