How Einstein Started

Einstein’s start in life, if boiled down to a formula, would be something like this:

how Albert Einstein started infographic

Tinkering with a compass + contempt for school and authority + thought experiments + having an office next to a clock tower and a train station + a government job with a boss who turned a blind eye to what he did at work = genius.

Thinking Visually

There is more to it, according to Walter Isaacson, the biographer, Einstein was an obsessive reader. There was a school that practiced a new teaching method – a visual thinking method. There was a lover,  the only female physics student, who became a sounding board for Einstein’s early work. There was an uncle who was an electrical engineer, letting Einstein ticker with lights.  And another rich uncle in Belgium who was certain Albert was a prodigy ever since he was a kid.

How Einstein Really Started – A Thought Experiment

But what was at the beginning of it all? According to Walter Isaacson’s book, it was a compass. A five-year old Albert was lying in bed sick when his father brought him a compass to play with. Albert asked how it worked. No, just saying that compasses work because of Earth’s magnetic field was not enough. He wanted to know how it really worked.  He wanted to visualize it.

Since that encounter with a compass, and many books later, there was one book that especially stuck Albert’s imagination. So much that he started visualizing in his head everything he read in it. This book was People’s Book on Natural Science. The author specifically asked his reader to take an imaginary trip through space. And Einstein did. At 15, while walking around Italian countryside, he first imagined what it would be like to ride along a beam of light. That was his first thought experiment, one of many more that would later make him who he became.

About his thought experiments, Einstein famously said;

 The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.

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Most of the facts in the timeline are based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe .


This is the first full biography of Albert Einstein since all of his papers have become available. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom and explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom and the universe.