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Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press (June 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038533303X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333030
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,445 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Driving Mr. Albert chronicles the adventures of an unlikely threesome--a freelance writer, an elderly pathologist, and Albert Einstein's brain--on a cross-country expedition intended to set the story of this specimen-cum-relic straight once and for all.

After Thomas Harvey performed Einstein's autopsy in 1955, he made off with the key body part. His claims that he was studying the specimen and would publish his findings never bore fruit, and the doctor fell from grace. The brain, though, became the subject of many an urban legend, and Harvey was transformed into a modern Robin Hood, having snatched neurological riches from the establishment and distributed them piecemeal to the curious and the faithful around the world.

The brain itself has seen better days, its chicken-colored chunks floating in a smelly, yellow, formaldehyde broth, yet its beatific presence in the book, riding serenely in the trunk of a Buick Skylark, encased in Tupperware, reflects the uncertainty of Einstein's life. Was he a sinner or a saint, a genius or just lucky? Harvey guards the brain as if it were his own. From time to time, he has given favored specialists a slice or two to analyze, but the results have been mixed. Physiologically, Einstein's brain may have been no different from anyone else's, but plenty of people would like the brain to be more than it is, including Paterniti:

I want to touch the brain. Yes, I've admitted it. I want to hold it, coddle it, measure its weight in my palm, handle some of its fifteen billion now-dormant neurons. Does it feel like tofu, sea urchin, bologna? What, exactly? And what does such a desire make me? One of a legion of relic freaks? Or something worse?

Traversing America with Harvey and his sacred specimen, Paterniti seems to be awaiting enlightenment, much as Einstein did in his last days. But just as the great scientist failed to come up with a unifying theory, Paterniti's chronicle dissolves at times into overly sincere efforts to find importance where there may be none, and it walks a fine line between postmodern detachment and wide-eyed wonderment. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the book offers an engrossing portrait of postatomic America from what may be the ultimate late-20th-century road trip. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Driving a Buick Skylark across the country with an addled octogenarian and an organ may not seem like the ripest material for a story, even if the organ is Albert Einstein's brain. In the hands of a stylish writer like Paterniti, however, the journey becomes a transcendent and hilarious exploration of heady themes like obsession, love and science. In 1955, the octogenarian, a pathologist named Thomas Harvey, removed Einstein's brain during an autopsy and, claiming he wished to study it further, took it home. In the years that followed, he sliced and shipped the brain around the world, but never relinquished most of the organ. Nor, to the criticism of colleagues, did he release his long-promised study. Forty-two years later, Harvey was finally ready to return the brain to Evelyn Einstein, Albert's granddaughter. He enlisted Paterniti, a freelance writer living in Maine, for the task. What ensues is a rare road story that gives equal weight to journey and destination. An expansion of an article published in Harper's magazine, this road-tale bears the classic elements of a spiritual questDthe brain a classic example of a character stand-in. But Paterniti so seamlessly weaves his stream-of-consciousness musings about everything from the theory of relativity to his own sputtering relationship with Harvey that the book becomes much more. Readers will hear echoes from American cultural historyDthe wanderlust of the Beats, the literary texture of Hemingway and the pastel-tinted surrealism of the Simpsons. It's impossible to put this book down. Paterniti has written a work at once entertaining, psychologically rich and emotionally sophisticatedDa feat as rare as, well, Einstein himself. Agent, Sloan Harris. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Sometimes you get a little upset and scream "Just say it, damnit!".
A. Jenista
Mr. Paterniti tells a hillarious story of driving across the United States with the man who did the autopsy on Albert Einstein, and KEPT HIS BRAIN!
Thea M. Ryan
This is a great read, one of those books that is enjoyed for itself, for the time it gives you, the pleasure.
Cosmic Mojo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in a single day, laughing out loud every few pages and ignoring incoming phonecalls, visitors, and mealtimes along the way--whatever might come between me and Driving Mr. Albert. It's a quirky, sweet, smart, and sometimes sad tale built on the backs of three great characters--Michael Paterniti, Dr. Harvey, and Einstein's brain. The writing is stunning straight through, Paterniti's reflections on life and love belong in Bartlett's, and the mad trio's visits to Los Alamos, Vegas, and William S. Burroughs poise this book as the 21st century version of On The Road. A thrilling, fun read... I can't recommend it more.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I don't know where to begin . . . a spectacular journey across America and through the mind and heart of a redoubtable writer with a singular voice and vision, and with two of the most unique characters as mates - Einstein as you have never known him before, hovering like a giant sun over the passengers carrying his brain, and Dr. Harvey, an eccentric, enigmatic real life Frank J. Parnell ("Ever heard of the neutron bomb?"). I heard about this book on The Connection on NPR and immediately went out, bought it, and read it in two nights. It was far better than I even expected. The juxtaposition of Einstein's lack of intimacy and personal relationships with the writer's own need for it, and fear of leaving it behind, permanently, as he drives down America's highways with an octagenerian and a genius's brain in the trunk. The details of Einstein's life that provide a picture of Einstein as person and demigod. The trip itself, including a quintessentially William S. Burroughs moment with Mr. Burroughs himself. Truly engrossing reading. Once in a great while, a book like this comes out and redeems my faith that authentic, fresh storytelling as artform is alive and well. Brain jam through the latest great american road trip. I can't reccommend it enough.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ted sullivan on July 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing and poetic work, almost as full of ideas as the legendary brain itself. Paterniti is a gloriously gifted writer, blessed with the ability to explore both big ideas and small moments in unnervingly fresh ways. I'd recommend Driving Mr. Albert to anybody fascinated by the highways and byways of the human brain or the American landscape, or to anybody who simply loves good writing.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jon D. Katz on July 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a great rendering of one of the most bizarre folktales in scientific history..the fate of Einstein's brain. You simply can't spend a more entertaining few hours this summer than with this hilarious and poignant book..
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Driving Mr. Albert" will surprise you as it did me. The insights into Einstein's genius and his personal relationships (or lack of as it turns out) are facinating. However, the delightful surprise here is the encounters and digressions as Harvey and Paterniti (and Einstein's brain) make their way cross-country. The events are wild (dinner with a high, swashbuckling William Burroughs), weird ( Samual Dinsmoor's cement 'Garden of Eden' near Lucas, Kansas) and hilarious ( the off-the-wall Pakistani check-in man in Santa Monica and the ongoing fencing between the illusive Harvey and the writer as Paterniti trys to see the brain). You keep wanting more and Paterniti gives it to you all the way to California where Harvey's unexpected reaction upon finally meeting Evelyn Einstein is a stopper. All this is written beautifully by Paterniti with descriptions and philosophies of the road that make you reflect between laughs. This is a must read for summer.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
'To be honest I thought it would be a caper. That's what I imagined. And I thought the old doctor was a true eccentric, which would be entertaining. And yet desire is a tricky thing. It can change a quick outing to the store for milk into a lifelong, shoeless quest through the Himalayas in search of enlightenment. It can put you on the road to Canterbury without your realizing it at first. And some version of that is what happened.' ---That is the first paragraph of Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti. And that is the opening hint of this madcap pilgrimage that he and an 84-year-old doctor took across America, Einstein's brain in tupperware between them like a religious relic. With all the incandescence of Einstein himself, Paterniti writes the song of America and sings how we live and hope and believe in this beautiful chaos, how we make a home in the world. It's the hero's quest brought up-to-date, the call to adventure, the road of trials, and the ultimate boon has been distilled into this elegant handbook for how we live now. Savor this one, you've never read anything like it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David on July 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A thoughtful and entertaining and totally unique spin on the classic road trip myth, Paterniti's work is rife with mind-spinning speculation and hilarious slices of American pie. A great book for either the beach or the think tank, DMA can be taken as lightly or as seriously as the reader likes. Either way, it's a compelling, thought-provoking read.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Super book - different than anything else I've ever read. I went into it without any preconceived notions and not really knowing where the book would go or what it was about with any detail, and just took the ride. If you are looking for an offbeat, satisfying book that makes you think a little, read it.
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