Summary and book reviews of Driving Mr Albert by Michael Paterniti

Driving Mr Albert

A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain

by Michael Paterniti

Driving Mr Albert
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2000, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2001, 224 pages

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Book Summary

Part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part biography, and part meditation - one of the most unique road trips in modern literature.

Albert Einstein's brain floats in formaldehyde in a Tupperware® bowl in a gray duffel bag in the trunk of a Buick Skylark barreling across America. Driving the car is Michael Paterniti, a young journalist from Maine. Sitting next to him is an eighty-four-year-old pathologist named Thomas Harvey who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955--and simply removed the brain and took it home. And kept it for over forty years.

On a cold February day, the two men and the brain leave New Jersey and light out on I-70 for sunny California, where Einstein's perplexed granddaughter, Evelyn, awaits. And riding along as the imaginary fourth passenger is Einstein himself, an id-driven genius, the original galactic slacker with his head in the stars.

Part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part biography, and part meditation, Driving Mr. Albert is one of the most unique road trips in modern literature. With the brain as both cargo and talisman, Paterniti perceives every motel, truck-stop diner, and roadside attraction as a weigh station for the American dream in the wake of the scientist's mind-blowing legacy. Finally, inspired by the man who gave a skeptical world a glimpse of its cosmic origins, this extraordinary writer weaves his own unified field theory of time, love, and the power to believe, once again, in eternity.

On a cold winter day, during one of my early visits to Dr. Harvey, we drove around Princeton, making the obligatory pilgrimage to 112 Mercer Street, the house where Einstein spent the last twenty years of his life. We sat for awhile with the car running, warm air pouring from the heater, gazing at a modest wood-frame colonial with black shutters on a pleasant block of like houses. More than anything, Einstein said he loved the old place for the light that filled the upstairs rooms and for the gardens out back. He kept pictures of Michaelangelo and Schopenhauer hanging in his study, because, as he said, both men had escaped an everyday life of raw monotony and taken "refuge in a world crowded with images of our own creation."

Sitting in the car, Thomas Harvey recalled hoew the Einstein family gathered here after the scientist's death, how his son, Hans Albert, and Einstein's longtime assistant, Helen Dukas, and Einstein's executor, Otto Nathan, as well as a small group of...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the book's epigraph, what traits does Virginia Woolf include for her portrait of a "splendid mind?"

  2. What parallels did you detect between Einstein's life and Harvey's?

  3. Driving Mr. Albert unfolds in some ways like a detective story. What mysteries emerged throughout the book? Were all of them solved?

  4. Do you think Thomas Harvey's true motivation in taking this trip was to deliver the brain to Evelyn? Did he and Michael Paterniti share any unspoken personal goals at this point in their lives? What conflicts was Paterniti able to resolve through this trip?

  5. What did Part One tell you about the author's upbringing? Did his roots prepare him well for this episode in his life? Did his roots in fact lead him to ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Washington Post Book World

Of all our distinctively American manias, few have the enduring psychic resonance of the road trip. From Lewis and Clark to Huck Finn, Jack Kerouac to Hunter Thompson, it is our favorite route to regeneration and self-discovery, our autotherapeutic ritual, our hajj without a Mecca. Now feature writer Michael Paterniti joins that grand tradition with an eccentric, implausible, hilarious, infuriating, and ultimately mesmerizing nonfiction account of his eight-day journey across the country in a teal-colored Buick Skylark.... [the book's] huge appeal and final joy depend chiefly on two elements. One is Paterniti's prose style ... The other is the refreshingly compassionate tone.

Vanity Fair

Part travelogue, part biography ... highly absorbing.

Author Blurb Bob Shacochis, author of Easy in the Islands and The Immaculate Invasion
We all need to sign up for this one, the last great postmodern fin de millennium road trip, a cosmic whodunit and an everlastingly unforgettable pilgrimage. Driving Mr. Albert is a dazzling dense lump of miracles and genius thanks in no small part to chief detective Michael Paterniti, a literary wizard whose multidimensional prose is quite a match for his subject's brilliance.

Reader Reviews

JAMES FRASER

Driving Mr. Albet
Hi, the book is very interesting, I have read other reviews, like "book notes" that said a large part of the brain was in Saskatchewan Canada. I lived near Canwood Saskatchewan where Einstein played hockey, but no brain. The only conclusion I have ...   Read More

Kort

I personally enjoyed this story of 2 men who travel across the US with Albert Einstein's brain in the trunk of their rented Buick. It was quirky and fun and sweet all at the same time. Included is a light biography of Einstein and the bizarre ...   Read More

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