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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Points of research in 'Einstein's Trunk'

I personally like books that are intellectually stimulating, even in my choice of thrillers, so I tried to include information in Einstein’s Trunk that would satisfy that need. In the course of writing ET, I had to do a fair bit of research on hammer throwing, Einstein’s life, nuclear science, CERN, nuclear weapons, and astronomy.

Einstein was a particularly interesting subject. I had no idea he had an illegitimate daughter with his first wife before he married her and then put the daughter up for adoption. It seemed such a sad story. There are many details including a book written on the subject, but it’s still not definitive what happened to the child. In ET I chose what I thought was the most plausible scenario. I originally had quite a large chapter devoted to that story, but, alas, it got edited out in the interest of keeping the plot moving along. It was probably the right decision – after all, I was writing a thriller. But the story of the illegitimate child was important to the plot.

I was also fascinated by the 1939 letter Einstein wrote to Roosevelt endorsing the Manhattan project and then his later guilt at having done so. It turns out even geniuses have their regrets. That worked its way into the book as well.

I did a lot of my research on the internet. It’s an amazing tool. I can sit in my living room typing away, want to know the difference between the different types of nuclear weapons, and find the answer in seconds. Same thing is true for any science subject. And the information on the internet isn't necessarily superficial if you dig around.   

The astronomer Palissa was one of my internet discoveries. How convenient that he named an asteroid ‘Elsa’, the same name as Einstein’s second, and most beloved, wife. If you read ET, you’ll see how that got worked into the plot.

Not all of my research took place on the internet, however. I live in Zurich and actually walked the streets I mention in ET. With a few artistic deviations, the descriptions are accurate. The chase scenes in Höngg are particularly well drawn because I lived in that Zurich neighborhood for five years. And there really is a Desperado restaurant a block away from Meierhofplatz. I’ve eaten there many times.

For the hammer throwing details I was given a most excellent education on the subject over dinner one night in the Tres Kilos Mexican restaurant (one of Rulon’s favorite Zurich eating establishments) by Martin Bingisser, an American expat living in Zurich and avid hammer thrower. He gave me such interesting information that I also included some hammer throwing details in the sequel I’m writing now.    

CERN I visited, but couldn’t get in, though the descriptions of the Meyrin gate and surrounding scenery is accurate.

All the best,

March 17, 2011, Zurich

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