Robert Marc Freidman is an historian of science and a playwright. His theatrical works include “Remembering Miss Meitner,” covering the flight of physicist Lise Meitner’s departure from pre-war Germany and later career in Sweden, and “Transcendence,” a work currently going through public readings. The premiere performance is expected in Berlin this November, as part of the commemoration of the centenary of Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Commissioned by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, “Transcendence: Relativity and Its Discontents” covers the years leading up to Albert Einstein being awarded the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics. Worth remembering is that Einstein was not recognized for his work in relativity, but for his work on the photoelectric effect. A member of the committee responsible for awarding the Physics prize, Allvar Gullstrand, did his best to block Einstein from being recognized with a Nobel. Carl Wilhelm Oseen, a member of the committee that sought to recognize Einstein’s work. Also part of the play are Max Planck, who encouraged Einstein to move to Berlin from Zurich, and Franz Kafka, who corresponded with Einstein during this period.
While this is a new commissioned work by Friedman, his 2001 book The Politics of Excellence certainly informed “Transcendence.” The book covers the politics behind the Nobel prizes in chemistry and physics, including Einstein’s. If you can’t wait for the November premiere (or won’t be able to be in Berlin), I’d seek out the book to tide you over.