Physicists as a rule are not overattentive to the pronouncements of Swiss patent office clerks, and so, despite the abundance of useful tidings, Einstein’s papers attracted little notice. Having just solved several of the deepest mysteries of the universe, Einstein applied for a job as a university lecturer and was rejected, and then as a high school teacher and was rejected there as well. So he went back to his job as an examiner third class, but of course he kept thinking. He hadn’t even come close to finishing yet.
When the poet Paul Valéry once asked Einstein if he kept a notebook to record his ideas, Einstein looked at him with mild but genuine surprise. “Oh, that’s not necessary,” he replied. “It’s so seldom I have one.” I need hardly point out that when he did get one it tended to be good. Einstein’s next idea was one of the greatest that anyone has ever had—indeed, the very greatest, according to Boorse, Motz, and Weaver in their thoughtful history of atomic science. “As the creation of a single mind,” they write, “it is undoubtedly the highest intellectual achievement of humanity,” which is of course as good as a compliment can get.