on February 2, 2003
In reading the customer reviews, as well as talking about this book with others, I'm suprised at the amount of negative reactions this book has ignited. A professor commented that Paterniti is one of the worst non-fiction writers of our time. A friend lamented that this book would have made an excellent essay, trimming the fat so to speak (it actually was an article).
But I love it.
I received this book for Christmas, not knowing anything about it. And I've been happily pleased with it. While the story itself is unique and interesting, I enjoyed the interspersed biographical material on Einstein. Are there better sources for this information? Likely. But the way these bits are interwoven into Paternity's cross-country journey are quite fitting. Another common complaint about this book is the personal subplot of Paterniti's life. I rather enjoy that as well, to be honest. His homesickness, frustration, and anxiety of aging provide a nice addition to the Einstein backdrop.
My only complaint is that, at times, it seems as though Paterniti is trying to hard. Not in a pretentious manner, but he just seems to strain himself to write on occasion. But not so much as to turn me off from his work.
Overall, a great work of modern American non-fiction.
on August 4, 2003
As another reviewer has pointed out, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" this book ain't.
The writer's understanding of even basic physics seems very limited (this is evident from how confused his physics based metaphors are), let alone whether he understands anything at all about relativity. If you are tempted to read this book because you think that it will offer a readable introduction to relativity - don't because it won't. The reviewers who have said that the book offers an introduction to relativity must be as confused as the writer is. I have the suspicion that the number of stars given by the reviewer is inversely proportional to the amount of physics which the reviewer understands.
The main flaw of this book however is how contrived it is. In this respect it is deeply disappointing, as the further I got into the book, the deeper was my feeling of hurt at being conned by this writer. Persevering with reading the book is like persevering with cultivating a relationship with an absolute liar and is deeply upsetting in this regard. You feel like reaching out to grab them and implore them, "Just tell the truth." I know nothing about writing, and have not attended graduate school in creative writing as has the author, but surely the first thing that a writer must do is develop his own voice which is an honest voice, and not a phony voice. Most of the incidents relayed in the book appear to be manufactured merely for inclusion in a book about travelling across America with Einstein's brain in the trunk - to be quirky and to boost sales.
The most enjoyable and least phony passages are towards the beginning of the book concerning the author's time spent at graduate school where he met Sara and his trips across country as a teenager and a 23 year old. After this, the mask comes up in front of his face and we step into the realm of "contrived quirkiness," presumably in the interests of sales. Perhaps "zany" sells, and it is probably easier to sell books by fooling the customer than by actually writing something of some enduring value. The many good reviews on this web site seem to me to be a testament to this fact.
All of this is to say nothing about the despicable act which the physician Harvey committed in stealing the brain out of a corpse. To employ my own physics based metaphor, there is a certain wave-particle duality between the dishonesty exhibited by Harvey in his actions (whatever his intentions were) and the actions of getting a magazine contract, then a book contract, then going on the trip (in a car paid for by the publishers) and then pushing the manuscript on those unsuspecting readers out there across America, who are waiting to lap up "zany" (whatever the intentions of the writer were.)
I'm with the school kid who asked the physician Harvey, "What's the point?" Ultimately, an exercise in pretentious and dishonest babbling, and I will be glad to be finished with the book.
on June 13, 2002
"Driving Mr. Albert" is one of those unique works that elude interpretive hyperboles...a 'magnum opus'. You don't describe it...you experience it. The weighty equation E=mc2 and the theory of relativity, conjure up images of a wiry-haired wrinkled old genius known to the world as Einstein. The author, Paterniti, mixes his own equation with words. The result? More than just a relative success, "Driving Mr. Albert" is a light and amiable concoction of humor, eccentricity, wit, poignancy, as well as raw and often highly amusing observation. The ever-curious journalist (Paterniti) researches and finally meets Dr. Harvey, the mortician who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955. Scandal ensued when Harvey absconded and ultimately "disappeared" with the brain of the genius himself, claiming to be doing scientific studies to assertain if there were any unique facets to it. As Paterniti and Harvey's worlds collide, the result is far from prosaic.
Paterniti writes with such a personal flourish of his own, I was instantly captivated and found myself a passenger aboard his eccentric cross-country pilgrimage with Dr. Harvey and their third "passenger", Einstein's brain (bobbing in a formaldehyde-filled Tupperware container stowed in the trunk).
"Driving Mr. Albert" is the embodiment of the cliché: it's not the destination, but the journey that counts. As Paterniti and Harvey bomb towards California in a rented Skylark to rendezvous with Einstein's granddaughter, Evelyn, the author not only ascertains much about the contradictory persona of Einstein, and Dr. Harvey's fascinating life, but also about his own existence.
The words I absorbed enraptured me in laughter, had me strolling down my own memory lane, and brought me near to tears during unexpected poignant scenes. The story and the intriguingly vivid characters, coupled with Paterniti's descriptive rhetoric made for an utterly arresting read. It's also makes for wonderful light weekend reading, as it's mere 211 pages will attest, and can be finished in a few sittings. With a plethora of these factors in its favor, I would not hesitate recommending "Driving Mr. Albert" to anyone who enjoys a truly entertaining anecdote, both deep and humorous.
on July 7, 2002
The concept of driving cross-country with Einstein's brain seems like it would be a fabulous kernel to wrap a story around. I'm sure that's what the publisher thought and all those (like me) who bought the book to make it a NY Times Bestseller. However I was extremely disappointed by the book. It fails as a cross-country travelogue, it fails as a biography of Einstein, and it fails as a story about Harvey, the pathologist who absconded with Einstein's brain for all these years. Mr. Paterniti stretches to make the relatively uneventful trip engaging at all. Instead Mr. Paterniti spends most of the time making quasi-philosophical conjectures based on his very superficial knowledge of physics. His prose style is also very bloated and pretentious. E.g. "We simmer for a while, chitchatting the blubber." because chewing the fat is far too colloquial. Mr. Paterniti spends more time showing off his vocabulary and metaphor making skills, then actually weaving a story with anything meaningful to say. He is the worst kind of writer, one who can write well but has nothing to say.
The book could have been salvaged several times, but Mr. Paterniti fails in the most important trait for a writer. He lacks honesty. I feel often that Paterniti is filtering the story through his lens; telling the story so he doesn't have to expose any of his own faults or explore his own psyche. He briefly mentions his failing relationship with his girlfriend, but doesn't bother to explore that topic. There is obvious tension between Harvey and Paterniti, but once again this gets glossed-over too.
The book isn't a total waste, it just could have been executed much better. Save your nickels and get the book from your library. That way you won't lose anything when you stop reading half way through.
on November 23, 2001
Michael Paterniti came upon a great idea, to write about his cross-country trip with Thomas Harvey, the man who autopsied Albert Einstein and then stole his brain, keeping it in his basement for fifty years. Much of this book is entertaining: meeting up with Harvey's various lady friends, visiting the bizarre William S. Burroughs months before his death, eating in truck stops, Paterniti rambling to strangers having Einstein's brain in the back of his Buick Skylark.
DRIVING MR. ALBERT is no ON THE ROAD, however. This book is a long-winded magazine article, stuffed with sidetrips and a light biography of Albert Einstein. Paterniti never truly has a meeting of minds with Harvey; he does not develop a friendship or any kind of trust. Paterniti is merely the driver, Harvey a spectacularly unusual character along for the ride.
Paterniti thanks a friend in his acknowledgments for pulling him back from precipices of metaphor, though it's obvious the friend didn't pull at him enough -- Paterniti still goes over the edge a few times, sprinkling the text with phrases such as "big as the cosmos" and "we drove down the highway like neurons racing through the brain."
Pacing is a problem as well. The backstory of Einstein's life is not well integrated into the book, taking us on day trips to nowhere. Paterniti has obviously researched this book well, but has merely inserted others' paraphrased words wholesale.
I love road trips, especially with cerebral passengers, but I was ready to bail on this one somewhere between Lawrence, Kansas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
on January 2, 2003
This is a book about a writer, a scientist who has Einstein's brain, and the trip they take across the country. That is like saying Moby Dick is about a whale.
This is one of the great books I have read in a long time. That of course is relative, because it is my opinion. It is all relative...and that is what this amazing book is about for me.
Alot of reviews and readers seem to think this book is quirky and eccentric. I happen to think it is a very clear piece which resonated with me for a long time.
When reviews comment about this book not being a travel book, or a biography or this or that...I think it is brilliant because it ties all those threads together. I think that it boldly makes connections.
I frankly do not know what you as a reader will think of this book. My sister in law loved it but thought it was fiction. I loved it and thought it was fact.
And truthfully I love books that leave me to wander in the universe a little. Some people want conclusion. I don't think life concludes.
I can only say that this book left me spinning in a universe of science, love, fate, Vegas, diners, Concrete Garden of Edens, destiny and hot tubs. I feel like a portal of the universe was open when I read this...and I will probably never look at things the same. You might sell the book for fifty cents.
It's all relative
I will say this....if you know nothing about Einsein, you may learn a little something. If you haven't thought about the power of science, the joys of life, our place in a swirling mass of gases....you might....
on December 28, 2000
I can't say much more than a lot of the stuff that other reviewers have already said. But the one thing that made this book one of the most fascinating things that I have read recently was the descriptions of the eccentric folks that comprised the slice of humanity that Paterniti met. People who cause me to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see for the first time in my life a perfectly normal person.
The narrative style, snippets of conversation, and rambling style all made this book a pleasure to read. Although most of the book centered on the cross-country drive, I did not really think that this book was a "road" book. Then again, I started this book not knowing what to think. Then again, I ended the book not knowing what to think either.
The one thing that I find unusual is that it seems like people view Doctor Harvey as either a quack interferring with real science or the possessor of a holy relic. My feeling is that if Doctor Harvey did not shoplift Einstein's grey matter, then it would have been cremated along with the rest of Albert, so Doctor Harvey by not surrendering the brain to authorities is not doing anything worse than what would have happened if the brain were toasted in the first place. And the reverence that some hold for the brain also strikes me as unusual -- although I admire Einstein, I personally have as much interest in seeing his brain as I do in seeing Millard Fillmore's pancreas.
on December 15, 2000
I would of enjoyed reading at least one paragraph that wasn't overly written. Sometimes you get a little upset and scream "Just say it, damnit!".
This book was pretty upsetting for me - he ends up idolizing this cretin of a pathologist who stole Einstien's brain for no other purpose than the limelight. He then refused to return it to the family, or hand it over to an institution for proper research. Instead this pathological country bumbkin keeps it in his basement in a box, giving out pieces to those who praise him for this grisly deed. Dr. Harvey is a jerk extraordinaire, in my book easily one of the top ten jerks of all time. Yet the writer adores him, so much that when the bumbling pathologist leaves the brain (in tupperware, to wit) in the back seat of the rental car he does not promptly return it to the family or authorities; instead he gives it back to the absent minded fool who took it. You really have to wonder...
If this want-to-be writer had spent more time thinking about the subject matter than trying to eloquently express everything from a gas-stop to indigestion, this book could have been much better. Perhaps even an expose of the man most deservedly removed of his medical license, Dr. Harvey. Unfotunately the writer was obsessed with his own fame, a true brother of Harvey.
Two stars for the chronicle, but that's all you get.
on July 1, 2001
Michael Paterniti has written an entertaining cross-country trip that includes an eccentric who uses Tupperware in ways the manufacturer never imagined. And like the remnants of the objects it contains, there are a variety of pieces; the book too has pieces, good and parts that are something less.
The story is so bizarre there are times I wondered if the writer had drifted off the narrow path of non-fiction. I do not suggest any deception; rather some of his experiences make the brain in the trunk appear rather normal. His trip to Japan to visit the grandmaster of Einstein collectables is surreal, and the visit with the Beverly Hills attorney reads like an event that only Quentin Tarantino would conjure. If this becomes a movie I cannot think of another director that could bring this road trip to the screen.
The Doctor who absconded with the brain barely rises above boring, had he not kept the brain and kept his Medical License he may have had a more interesting life. The Author did a good job with what is undeniably a quirky topic, however he is also responsible for keeping the book from delivering the full potential the story offered. The Author repeatedly interrupts his narrative with his attempts to philosophize situations and locations he finds himself in as if he is chatting on a level with the brain's former owner. He is good, but not that good. Hr drones on about what a cloned Einstein would feel about being born and already having a FBI file. Cloning, unless it has changed, reproduces the physical not the mental. His scenario would be the exception to the rule; if it looks like Einstein, and walks like Einstein, in this case, it isn't Einstein. Cloning gets you the box, software not included.
The tale hits its low when visiting Los Alamos. The Author is certainly entitled to his opinions of History however mistaken and vague his facts may be. Mr. Paterniti might likely have approved the first draft of the original Enola Gay Display at The Smithsonian were he given the chance. World Wars cannot be summed up with isolated statistics, and cocktail party levels of knowledge.
I would like to have read this story rendered by a writer with a wicked wit and an ability not to drift into self-important rants on nothing. If this book confined itself to the essential event of driving the brain of Einstein across the Country, albeit with an eccentric/dysfunctional Doctor, the book could have been extraordinarily entertaining. As it is the level that is reached is at times amusing, but little else.
on October 18, 2001
This is a great book, a great retelling of a calculatedly absurd adventure, and a great reflection on the complicated icon that Einstein has become for our popular culture.
I think other reviewers may have been disappointed in it as a "story" because the author declined to force a climax or particular conclusion into it. That's often the difference between reality and our fictionalization of it though, and I don't take anything away from Paterniti for offering his insights and (largely) leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. Really, forcing as richly weird and rewardingly absurd a set of scenarios as this book presents into a single "conclusion" of any sort would tragically diminish the pleasure and insight available from it. Much better to tell the tale, offer your reflections and step back.
On that level, I found Driving Mr. Albert rewarding. What does it mean for Einstein, the ultimate symbol of this century's faith in reason and science, to be reduced to a macabre fetish-object or collector's item? I've got a mint Ty Cobb rookie card... I've got a finger bone from John The Baptist... I've got Einstein's hypothalmus in a tupperware cup... Beautiful, visceral, twisted, complicated, sad and way, way, way too true.