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By Culturekiosque Staff

LONDON, 26 MAY 2008 - A new record for a letter by Albert Einstein at auction was set when Einstein's letter in German to the philosopher Eric Gutkind brought £207,600 ($404,000) at Bloomsbury Auctions on 15 May 2008 in Mayfair, London. Sold to an anonymous private collector, its sale price included an extra £37,600 in fees. The letter had a pre-sale estimate of £6,000 - £8,000.

Rupert Powell, Bloomsbury's Managing Director said in a press statement, "The private buyer has a passion for theoretical physics and all that that entails. This extraordinary letter seemed to strike a chord, and it gave a deep personal insight one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. The final £207,600 has eclipsed previous records by at least four times."

Handwritten in pen in 1954 to his friend the philosopher Eric Gutkind, Einstein writes, "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish." Einstein was born into a middle-class Jewish family, but went to a Roman Catholic primary school, receiving private tuition in Judaism at home. He declined the offer from the newly formed state of Israel to be its second president.

Einstein's letter to Eric Gutkind
Photo courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions'

In Bloomsbury's letter, which was written in German the year before his death, Einstein wrote, "For me the Jewish religion like all others is the incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity, have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them." Although Einstein emphatically rejected conventional religion, he was affronted when his views were appropriated by atheists, whose lack of humility he found offensive.

Generally known as a visionary physicist, Einstein was also a humanitarian and anti-war activist who considered himself a citizen of the world. His celebrity status enabled him to speak out-on global issues from pacifism to racism, anti-Semitism to nuclear disarmament. "My life is a simple thing that would interest no one," he once claimed. But in fact, his letters, notebooks and manuscripts tell a dramatically different story. His passionate romance and subsequent marriage to physicist Mileva Mariã ended bitterly, alienating him from their two sons. Einstein's life was punctuated by love affairs-one of which, with his cousin Elsa Löwenthal, led to a second marriage.

In 1905, nearly a decade after this first "thought experiment," Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity revolutionized our understanding of time and space and is based on Einstein's recognition that light always travels at a constant speed, regardless of how fast you're moving when you measure it. Einstein's explorations into the fundamental properties of light also laid the groundwork for his most impressive achievement, the General Theory of Relativity.

The most famous equation in the world, E=mc2, arrived rather quietly. In 1905, Einstein published two articles on the Special Theory of Relativity. He completed his first paper in June, on the properties of light and time. Then just three months later he finished a second, shorter article-essentially an addendum to his previous paper-describing a "very interesting conclusion" about energy. Einstein went on to present his findings mathematically: energy (E) equals mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared (2), or E=mc2. The secret the equation revealed-that mass and energy are different forms of the same thing-had eluded scientists for centuries. Later, the theory would lead to the development of nuclear power and the atomic bomb.

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