Einstein gives a donor a book on Atomic Theory

Einstein gives a donor a book on Atomic Theory

Einstein, Albert (1879 – 1955). Typed letter signed (TLS) to Theodora Dehon, Princeton, New Jersey, 29 April 1947. 1 page. Creased from having been folded in quarters, else near fine. [WITH] Selig Hecht (1892 – 1947), Explaining the Atom. New York: Viking Press, 1947. First edition. Very good in dustwrapper. The two items are housed together in a custom clamshell case.

Stunned by the destruction wrought by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Albert Einstein organized the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS) in 1946 to ensure that such weapons would never again be deployed in warfare. He gathered several other leading figures including Leo Szilard, Linus Pauling, and Harold Urey to help, and together they embarked on a fundraising campaign to raise awareness of the danger posed by atomic weapons.


Members of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, 1946 (Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives Research Center)

One of the people who responded to their appeal was Theodora Dehon (1874 – 1949), the author of a well-reviewed novel of the French Revolution, Heroic Dust (New York: Macmillan, 1940). Her letter to Einstein, preserved in the archives of Oregon State University, said she wanted to “help in your campaign of education to ensure that Atomic Energy will be used for the benefit of mankind and not for humanity’s destruction.” She enclosed a donation of $100 (over $1300 in today’s dollars, adjusting for inflation).


Letter from Dehon to Einstein (Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives Research Center)

In this letter, Einstein thanks Dehon for her generosity and encloses this copy of Explaining the Atom by Selig Hecht, a professor of biophysics at Columbia University and an honorary member of the ECAS. An engaging volume outlining atomic theory for the lay reader, Hecht’s book is one of the first to describe the development of the bomb, beginning with the quantum revolution in physics at the turn of the century. Einstein, Szilard, and other members of the ECAS are referenced repeatedly in the book. “Little did Einstein imagine then [in 1905] that his equation [E = mc2] would be demonstrated forty years later on so large a scale as was done at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Bikini” (Hecht, p. 111). Einstein’s letter offers an endorsement of Hecht’s “distinguished book,” suggesting that it will allow “the discerning reader … the information necessary to form an independent opinion on the practical problems of atomic energy confronting the world today.”

An excellent example of Einstein’s work to control the genie he had unbottled.

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