‘I haven’t achieved much recently’: Albert Einstein’s private fears revealed in sister’s archive

A glimpse at the “private, hidden face” of Albert Einstein, including the celebrated scientist’s thoughts on everything from his fears that his best work was behind him to his equivocal feelings about his fame, has been revealed in a cache of letters he wrote to his beloved younger sister, Maja.

The collection, which includes a previously unknown photograph of Einstein as a five-year-old and the only surviving letter written by Einstein to his father, comes from the archive of Maja Winteler-Einstein and her husband Paul Winteler. A mix of letters, postcards and photographs, many of which have not previously been published, the documents range in date from 1897 to 1951.

The only surviving letter from Albert Einstein to his father (estimate: £2,500-3,500).



The only surviving letter from Albert Einstein to his father, estimated to sell for £2,500-3,500. Photograph: Yves Gerard/Christie’s Images Ltd 2018

“What’s remarkable about them stems from the fact that he had this incredibly close relationship with his sister. It’s quite clear when he’s writing to her, there’s no role-playing at all,” said Thomas Venning at Christie’s, which will auction the letters at the start of May. “He was very conscious of what was expected of him after he became famous, and you don’t get any of that in letters to his sister. He says some things that I’ve never seen him say anywhere else, and I’ve catalogued many hundreds of his letters.”

In 1924, nine years after he completed the general theory of relativity in 1915, Einstein would write to Maja that “scientifically I haven’t achieved much recently – the brain gradually goes off with age, although that’s not so unpleasant. It also means that you’re not so answerable for your later years.” Ten years later, he would write to her: “I am happy in my work, even if in this and in other matters I am starting to feel that the brilliance of younger years is past.”

Venning said he had not seen Einstein admit this anywhere else. “It’s not him playing a role, you can see that thought going through his head. Which is true – if Einstein had died in 1916, his fundamental legacy would have been intact. He carried on working for another 40 years without making any other great breakthroughs. So it’s just an extraordinary moment which we get because of how close their relationship was. He didn’t have to reassure her,” he said.

Tackling topics from his hobbies of sailing and playing the violin, to his difficult relationship with his first wife, the letters are “unpublished snapshots of Einstein, his private face”, according to Venning. In one from 1935, Einstein makes a rare acknowledgement of his achievements, writing to Maja: “In our main avenues of research in physics we are in a situation of groping in the dark, where each is completely sceptical about what another is pursuing with the highest hopes. One is in a constant state of tension until the end. At least I have the comfort that my main achievements have become part of the foundations of our science.”

“It sounds unusually big-headed for Einstein – he was an incredibly low-key, humble person, always careful not to say anything that sounded too proud. But I think he felt he could say something to Maja,” said Venning.

In 1923, in a letter that Christie’s has valued between £6,000 and £9,000, Einstein writes to Maja of his international fame, telling his sister and her husband that “I am becoming very much loved and even more envied; there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“He’s not rejoicing in it, he’s just sort of accepting it. Einstein was the first scientist to be a world celebrity. Before that it just didn’t really happen to scientists, so he was in this unique position,” said Venning.

Einstein to to Maja & Paul Winteler, 15 April 1923. ‘I am becoming very much loved and even more envied; there’s nothing to be done about it’. Estimate: £6,000-9,000



‘I am becoming very much loved and even more envied; there’s nothing to be done about it’ … Einstein to Maja and Paul Winteler, 15 April 1923. Photograph: Christie’s Images 2018 Ltd

The shadow cast by the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, and the strength Einstein drew from his work, is starkly depicted in a letter written to his sister in September 1933. Earlier that year, Einstein had renounced his German citizenship in Antwerp, fearing for his life after the Nazis branded relativity “Jewish science” and publicly denounced him. He took up a role at Princeton University in New Jersey in October; his sister would follow him in 1939.

“What will happen if we come back from Princeton next year? Will we even be able to? What will life be like there? The only unshakeable things are the stars and mathematics,” he wrote.

“This is him facing up to the fact his whole life has changed. He’s going to a country he doesn’t really know. And so his whole world is falling to pieces, and he says this wonderful line,” said Venning.

Christie’s will put the letters on view to the public from 18 to 20 April, and auction the collection online from 2 to 9 May.

Elena Ferrante: ‘Nothing is comparable to the joy of bringing another living creature into the world’

I was a terrible mother, a great mother. Pregnancy changes everything: our body, our feelings, the hierarchical order of our lives. The convention by which we have always considered ourselves one and indivisible fails. Now we have two hearts, all our organs are duplicated, our sex is doubled – we are female plus female or female plus male. And we are divisible, not metaphorically but in the acute reality of our body.

The first time I got pregnant, it was difficult to accept. Pregnancy was an anxious mental struggle. I felt it as the breakdown of an equilibrium already precarious in itself, as a revelation of the animal nature behind the fragile mask of the human. For nine months I was on a seesaw of joy and horror. The birth was terrible, it was wonderful. Taking care of a newborn, by myself, without help, without money, exhausted me; I hardly slept. I wanted to write and there was never time. Or if there was some, I would concentrate for a few minutes and then fall asleep fretfully. Until slowly everything began to seem to me marvellous. Today I think that nothing is comparable to the joy, the pleasure, of bringing another living creature into the world.

Of course, it took a lot of time away from my passion for writing. As a girl I’d imagined myself without children, entirely absorbed by my own yearnings. I admired women who were childless by choice, and I still understand the rejection of maternity. What I can no longer tolerate is the lack of understanding for women who do everything possible to get pregnant. In the past I had an ironic attitude, I thought: if you want children so much, adopt them. Today I think that the most extraordinary thing in my life was to conceive and give birth.

Men have always been jealous of that experience which is ours alone, and often dreamed – in myths, in certain rites – of forms of male pregnancy. Not only that: they immediately appropriated conception and birth metaphorically. They conceive ideas, give birth to works. And they have convinced us that since we already had the animal prerogative of maternity, the profoundly human prerogative of giving form to the world through sublime works was theirs alone.

But now we are demonstrating that we, too, are capable of metaphoric births, shadows are looming over maternity that seem to me threatening. A uterus can be bought. And among the countless prosthetic devices that will advance the connotations of the human there is one, the artificial uterus, that will free us from the annoyances of pregnancy.

I believe that in this case we should absolutely not be freed. Children are our body’s great, marvellous prostheses, and we will not give them literally to anyone, not to mad fathers, not to the country, not even to those machines that promise an inhumanly perfect humanity.

Translated by Ann Goldstein.

You can stick it: protest posters in the age of Trump – in pictures

This paper-cut artwork by Zierlein, a German illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts, was inspired by the 2017 US Senate
vote to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren’s objections to confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as US attorney general. Following the vote, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted”

Marx bicentenary to be marked by exhibitions, books – and pub crawls

Renewed interest in philosopher fires celebrations of 200 years since his birth on 5 May 1818

A Marx Memorial Library flag is flown at a May Day rally in London.






A Marx Memorial Library flag is flown at a May Day rally in London.
Photograph: Alamy

A spectre is haunting Europe in 2018 – to borrow from one of his catchier one-liners – the spectre of Karl Marx himself. Two hundred years after the philosopher’s birth, a small industry is gathering pace, from plans for major events in Trier, the city on the Moselle where he was born, to a new tour of the Manchester streets that he and Friedrich Engels walked as they discussed the condition of the city’s emerging working class. The bicentenary on 5 May will be marked with exhibitions, lectures, conferences, histories and novels.

The books are starting to pile up. Last month saw a new edition of Marxism – a Graphic Guide, a collaboration by philosophy lecturer Rupert Woodfin and comic book artist Oscar Zárate, while titles by heavyweight specialists on Marxism are on the way. They include a reprint of literary theorist Terry Eagleton’s bestselling Why Marx Was Right, along with a new edition of The Communist Manifesto – which starts with the “spectre” quotation – including an introduction by the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Marx’s ideas, running through the Russian revolution to the present day, will be the focus of Marx and Marxism, a new book by one of Britain’s foremost historians of socialism, Gregory Claeys. The influence of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn – as well as factors such as reduced employment prospects and a desire to challenge austerity – are credited by Claeys as helping to engender a renewed interest in Marx, particularly among the young.

Marxism: A Graphic Guide



Marxism: A Graphic Guide. Photograph: Book jacket

“Marx’s prose may seem somewhat obtuse to modern readers,” Claeys said. “But Marx’s central premise – that the most obvious and extreme forms of oppression and exploitation can be removed from everyday life – retains a robustness and daring paralleled by no other thinkers in the modern period.”

Fact is accompanied by fiction. The Murder of Warren Street by Oxford university historian Marc Mulholland, published at the end of May, promises to tell the story of villain Emmanuel Barthélemy (“the man who wanted to kill Marx”).

Marx Returns, due out on 23 February and written by Jason Barker, is billed as combining historical fiction, psychological mystery, philosophy and extracts from Marx’s and Engels’s collected works to reimagine the life and times of Marx.

Among a plethora of gatherings and conferences being organised by the various families of the left, one of the most eagerly awaited is Marx 200, a major conference due to take place at Soas University of London and organised by the Marx Memorial Library.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell – arguably Britain’s best-known Marxist – will speak on the theme of “Into the 21st century: Marxism as a force for change today” alongside guests from around the world, including Sitaram Yechury, the general secretary of the Communist party of India (Marxist), and Luo Wendong, a professor from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

John McDonnell.



John McDonnell. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

Meirian Jump, archivist at the memorial library, said interest had increased in Marxism in the past couple of years, while numbers attending lectures on Marxism and conducting research in the library’s reading room have risen in recent months.

“In the autumn our venue reached capacity and we had to turn people away from our lectures celebrating 150 years since the publication of Das Kapital,” Jump said. “It was noticeable that a large number of those queuing outside Marx House were young people and students.”

Away from the political calls to arms or Marxist think-ins, exhibitions include the Karl and Eleanor Marx Treasures Gallery, from May to early August at the British Library. The display aims to explore the role that the British Museum reading room, a predecessor institution of the British Library, played in the life and work of Marx and his daughter, a writer and political activist in her own right.

Items on display will include correspondence by Marx, his family and Friedrich Engels, covering both personal and political affairs, as well as rare copies of first editions of Marx’s writings, several of which he donated to the library. Among these is a copy of the first French translation of Das Kapital, believed to feature annotations in Marx’s own hand.

To the likely chagrin of committed Marxists and eurosceptics, the distinctly un-Marxist figure of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will open a series of exhibitions in Trier. Visitors will be able to view a new permanent exhibition at the Karl-Marx-Haus Museum, and a bronze figure of Marx donated by China.

Those unable to make the trip might instead consider the Marx 200th birthday walking tour in Manchester, where Engels lived on and off for almost 30 years and was visited by Marx.

“We’ve been doing Marx-themed walks for a while. He and Engels were great drinkers so we did one based on the pubs they used to go to, and there was a great response,” said Ed Glinert of New Manchester Walks.

“You get a real range of people. I took the Chinese consul around one time, for example. We don’t get too many Americans, though.”

As for what Marx would make of it all, Claeys asserted he had “a fine, robust sense of humour” and would certainly have mocked many who have taken up his name over the past 150 years.

“He would, I think, be a ‘deep green’ thinker who would advocate sustainable development, an end to planned obsolescence and production based on the profit rather than global human need,” he said.

Sofia Coppola on the film that launched her – The Start podcast

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At the 1999 Cannes film festival, attendees watched the work of a little-known 28 year old. That film was The Virgin Suicides, written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola. The novel by Jeffrey Eugenides about a doomed family of teenage sisters had resonated so much with the young Sofia she felt compelled to step behind the camera and make her own mark on movies.

In this first episode of The Start, Sofia Coppola reveals how personal tragedy – and her own not-too-distant adolescence – fed into the process of telling a story about youth and loss; and, 20 years on, explains the emotional significance the film holds for her today.

Why should we subsidise writers who have lost the plot? | Tim Lott

Following the announcement from Arts Council England that sales of literary fiction are plummeting, it is suggested that arts subsidies be deployed to help writers survive. I have another idea. They should write better books.

I barely read literary fiction any more. When I do it is almost always American writers: Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Anne Tyler, Donna Tartt. Not only are the aforementioned brilliant writers, they are accomplished storytellers. But here, the form of storytelling and literary novel writing has become largely divorced.

Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill is a magnificent recent exception, and there are of course others. But on the whole, my impression of literary fiction, from Eimear McBride’s much-praised A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing – the last literary novel I read – to the elegant tedium of (insert any number of literary writers here), is that it has lost the plot. Literally.

McBride is a superb writer. But it is fascinating how she reaches out for story and then, just after halfway through, she simply doesn’t know what to do with her driving narrative voice. Perhaps it’s because she wants to subvert story form. Or she may simply not know or care about it.

This would not be uncommon. Worrying about plot and story has long been unfashionable on the literary scene. Style and voice are what gathers plaudits. Martin Amis wrote: “If the prose isn’t there, then you’re reduced to what are merely secondary interests, like story [and] plot.” Edna O’Brien suggested plot was for “silly boys”, which might explain why men in particular are reluctant to buy literary novels.

It might also explain why, when I went to teach postgraduate students at the University of East Anglia – the foremost writing course in the country – about the fundamentals of plot, I was astonished to discover that these superbly talented young writers knew nothing whatsoever about it after years of studying the form.

This has long been the brahmin stance that distinguishes “literature” from mere novels. It consigns storytellers such as Austen, Dickens, Golding and Orwell to mediocrity or redundancy. Literary novelists have been in thrall to modernism since Joyce and Woolf, and latterly postmodernism (a more potentially entertaining template, certainly in the hands of writers such as David Mitchell and Magnus Mills).

But you can be a great writer and a great storyteller as well. Nowadays, long-form television has taken the place of most novels. What distinguishes great TV such as Breaking Bad, The Deuce, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and many more is the power of the narrative drive. With the great fields of time and scope now opening up on TV, these series have become the new novels. If novelists want to compete they have to up their game.

I have been teaching a course at Guardian Masterclasses with John Yorke, author of a seminal text on story, Into the Woods. We called the classes What Novelists Can Learn From Screenwriters, since it seeks to unpack for novelists the psychological and mythic patterns underlying plot. It is complex – plot is one of the most mysterious and tricky of all literary techniques, which is why so many writers, I suspect, avoid it. But it is essential for any writer who wants anyone to actually read their books, rather than just be admired by a tiny coterie.

The objection is that craft hinders creativity. Jonathan Coe sums up this point of view: “I have an instinctive horror of all systems which try to reduce writing to a series of rules to do with three-act structures and narrative arcs. It’s a sure recipe for formulaic writing.” With respect to Coe – a wonderful writer – I think he’s wrong. I stand with Delacroix: “You have to learn your craft. It won’t stop you being a genius.” The trouble is, novelists have chosen to forget that there is a craft to it.

Screenwriters have three main tools in their box: story, story and story. They know it inside out, because when you have to spend thousands of pounds for each frame to be made, you make damn sure you know what you’re doing. In the past, literary writers have had the luxury of ignoring this discipline. By confirming that this luxury, for most, no longer exists, the Arts Council has done us all a favour.

Tim Lott is a journalist and author

Eight big ideas for 2018 by Ed Miliband, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Jay Rayner, Sophie Walker and more

Art: Stefan Kalmar
AN AGE OF CRISIS: WHAT A GREAT OPPORTUNITY…

2018 is all about reclaiming reality, opposing governmental and corporate paradoxes, and dissecting lies, before they become a new truth, the new normal – a new reality.

A moment of crisis is also the moment in which new movements come into focus and new ideas are formed. I’m excited by Forensic Architecture, an interdisciplinary group based at Goldsmiths College in London, which includes artists, journalists, architects, film-makers, lawyers, data analysts and activists.

Forensic Architecture is the name of the research group as well as an investigative practice that crosses fields. It is grounded in the use of architecture as an “optical device”, employing forms of spatial analysis, mapping and reconstruction, overlaid with witness testimony and visual documentation. The group has undertaken a series of investigations into human rights violations and acts of state and corporate violence that have informed military, parliamentary and UN inquiries.

At the same time, Metahaven, a Dutch design studio, deals with information democracy and corporate identity. Its most recent work, The Sprawl, considered the “ways in which fantasy can be designed so as to seem or feel like a truth … how propaganda multiplies within that upload/download architecture; an architecture in which both fact and fiction can exist side by side and even overlap”.

These groups are, in many ways, the contemporary version of the Independent Group, a collection of radical young artists, writers and critics who in the 1950s called the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) their home. And if the groups look similar, then this is because the struggles are too.

Stefan Kalmár, a former Turner prize judge, is the director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts

Politics: Ed Miliband

EMBRACE THE IDEALISM OF THE YOUNG

A demonstration at Downing Street against Donald Trump’s travel ban



As has been proved in previous generations, young people’s vision can lead to long-term change. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

A major reason to be cheerful in politics in 2018, and for years to come, is young people. Amid the gloom that has hung over politics and society since Brexit and Trump, young people have represented the most noticeable countervailing force. We saw it this year at the general election, and we have seen it in the waves of young people engaged in the anti-Trump movement, the #MeToo campaign and much else.

The significance lies not just in another set of people demanding progressive things, but a set of people with a new set of demands, unencumbered by the past and driven by the circumstances of today. People born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, for many of whom LGBT+ rights, a new wave of feminism, the fight against climate change and an openness to radicalism are part of their generational DNA. When they look at the mess previous generations have made, they are driven to this desire for something better. Our deeply unequal world, including inequality between generations, is turbocharging this movement, which is not scared to demand big change.

Their idealism will often be dismissed as naivety or worse, as every wave is always dismissed, including the 1960s wave of feminism and anti-war sentiment. But older generations should resist the “we know better” impulse, the tendency to being a “centrist dad” as the term goes. Of course, this idealism is not always right, but its spirit is essential, and the demand it embodies for a new, fairer, more equal society should be embraced.

Pessimism and cynicism achieve nothing. By contrast, the energy and vitality of this new generation can help defeat Trump and lead us to build a post-Brexit Britain that doesn’t float off into a low-wage, offshore tax haven.

Just as the causes of earlier generations of young people, once dismissed as outlandish and radical, eventually became mainstream, so too it can happen again. They are the best hope for the transformation of the country we are to the country we can become.

Ed Miliband MP is a former leader of the Labour party and co-presenter of the Reasons to be Cheerful podcast

Biology: Jim Smith

INDIVIDUAL GENE SEQUENCING WILL TRANSFORM HEALTH

A collection of blood samples



2018 will see advances in DNA sequencing thanks to samples from UK Biobank volunteers. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

What we are is determined by our genes and by the sequence of the four chemicals – nucleotides – that make up the strands of our DNA. Fifteen years ago scientists sequenced and mapped the DNA in the human genome: they determined the order of the three billion nucleotides that make up our genetic material and they established (roughly) what the different parts of the genome do.

That has been extraordinarily powerful in helping us understand how life works and what it is to be human. But to say we have sequenced “the” human genome is misleading. Our genomes are all different, and if we are to understand susceptibilities to disease, or how people will respond to certain treatments, we need to correlate the health of individual people with their individual DNA sequences.

2018 should see this begin to happen. Thanks to advances in DNA sequencing technologies, and contributions from private sources, government and charities, it is now feasible to read the precise DNA sequence in every volunteer recruited to UK Biobank. Set up 10 years ago, UK Biobank represents a cohort of half a million people between 40 and 69, all of whom contribute information about diet, activity, body measurements and other personal information, as well as samples of blood, urine and saliva. Participants have agreed to have their health monitored, and approved researchers from academia and industry have access to all the anonymised data.

Already UK Biobank has transformed our understanding of health and disease, improving diagnosis and care for those with cancer and rare diseases. But if every participant has their genome sequenced, the prospects for understanding and treating disease, including obesity and mental health disorders, will be extraordinary. We do not know what we will find, but we can be confident it will transform our understanding of what it is to be healthy and what it is to be sick.

Dr Jim Smith is a developmental biologist and the director of science at Wellcome, the science and health foundation

Infrastructure: Sadie Morgan

TIME TO BUILD PRIDE IN OUR ROADS AND RAILWAYS

Ouse Valley viaduct in Sussex.



The Ouse Valley viaduct in Sussex is a striking example of Britain’s built heritage. But how many of us notice the country’s infrastructure? Photograph: Alamy

Our built environment is so integral to our lives that most of us rarely think about it – we take it for granted. We can say the same about the design of our infrastructure and how it affects people and place. It rarely gets the attention it deserves.

As architects and designers our focus has been on buildings at the expense of everything else. We can all think of our favourite building, but can you name a great streetscape, road junction or railway viaduct? That’s because often what defines the infrastructure of our countryside and cities is the miles of security fences, concrete noise barriers and railway stanchions.

Reimagining our built environment is one of the greatest opportunities we have to put a healthier, more compassionate and greener philosophy into place.

From stations to bridges, roads to railways, electricity pylons to flood defences,our infrastructure should engender national pride and a sense of local ownership. Look to the past, and there are plenty of great examples from Brunel’s bridges to Bazalgette’s sewers and pumping stations to power stations reimagined for the 21st century, as in Battersea and Bankside, now Tate Modern.

The UK consistently nurtures some of the best engineering, technical and architectural minds in the world, but we are building it elsewhere.

The good news is that big projects such as HS2 – the largest infrastructure project in the UK for a decade – has committed to high-quality design from the outset.

Britain has proved it is capable of designing and building world-class infrastructure. Add that to a commitment to invest hundreds of billions over the next decade, and this is an exciting prospect. I see 2018 as the year Britain rediscovers its infrastructure mojo.

Sadie Morgan is the co-founder of dRMM, which won the Riba Stirling Prize in 2017 and a member of the National Infrastructure Commission

Food: Jay Rayner

AS PRICES RISE, RESTAURANTS AND FARMS WILL STRUGGLE

EU farm workers in Tarleton, Lancashire.



Increasing difficulties in recruiting agricultural labour, partly as a result of the weakened pound, are likely to be felt by the food industry during 2018. Photograph: Alamy

Of all the falsehoods peddled by the pro-Brexit lobby, the most egregious was the notion that it was a decision for our future; the impact of the decision to leave the European Union on our food chain was instant, with the devaluation of sterling leading to an acceleration in food price inflation. By November this year it was running at 4.2%, a third higher than the headline rate.

In 2018 it is only going to get worse: the price of food will continue to rise ahead of general inflation, and as a weakened pound makes exporting ever more attractive, the major retailers will find themselves locked in competition with international markets for produce. Expect to see the big four supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons – softening up their customers for higher prices. Meanwhile, the discounters, especially Aldi and Lidl, which keep prices low by restricting choice but buying in enormous volume, will flourish.

The optimistic view is that this should all be good for food producers in 2018. In reality, Britain’s farmers have rarely benefited from competition among retailers, which have always prioritised shareholders over suppliers. What’s more, farmers have their own price issues. Few food items are the result of a solely domestic supply chain. They depend on inputs – seedlings for fruit growing, for example, or animal feeds – from abroad and the prices of those have also risen. More pressing are the accelerating labour issues. British agriculture depends on migrant labour, and there is increasing evidence of a reluctance to come to work here, both because the wages are worth less when sent home, and a growing perception that Britain is a less welcoming place for workers from abroad.

This is all going to be felt most keenly in the restaurant sector, which is preparing itself for a brutal 2018. Those ingredient price rises, combined with increased business rates, a shortage of vital staff from abroad and a general softening in consumer confidence, are expected to result in many restaurants going bust. For Britain’s food industry the next 12 months are not expected to be kind.

Jay Rayner is Observer restaurant critic

Space: Maggie Aderin-Pocock

GRAVITATIONAL WAVES WILL CHANGE ASTRONOMY

Advances in the understanding of space can be traced back to Einstein and other pioneers



Advances in the understanding of space can be traced back to Einstein and other pioneers. Photograph: A. Simonnet/AFP/Getty Images

We all know Einstein was a pretty smart chap, but few things show how ahead of his time he was as the recent detection of gravitational waves, which came out of his theory of general relativity, and is now transforming the way we look into space.

In this theory, Einstein merged three-dimensional space and time into a four-dimensional continuum called spacetime. Within it, mass causes distortions in spacetime and this manifests itself as gravity (you may have seen this shown as a distortion of a rubber sheet). A gravitational wave is formed when two or more super massive objects collide, resulting in ripples in spacetime that, like ripples on a pond, expand outwards into space.

Einstein published his theory in 1916, but it would take another hundred years, until 2016, for the first confirmed detection of a gravitational wave. Why did it take so long?

The challenge was that these ripples are minuscule. The measurement needed is the equivalent of detecting a movement of 1mm over the distance between us and Alpha Centauri (our neighbouring star about 25 trillion miles away). It sounds impossible, but the gravitational wave has a very distinct signature that can now be detected.

The joy of this is that it gives us a whole new way of doing astronomy. For thousands of years observations with the eye, telescopes, photographic plates and digital detectors all relied on detecting electromagnetic waves – one of the few things that can travel through the vacuum of space.

Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) can now make these challenging detections and is now fully operational after a big refurbishment. And with five confirmed gravitational wave detections in the past 18 months, we are gaining momentum – many more exotic collisions should be detected in 2018. A whole new field of astronomy is being established, and it all stems from Einstein’s genius.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a space scientist and honorary research associate in University College London’s department of physics and astronomy

Equality: Sophie Walker
WOMEN MUST BE AT THE HEART OF A FAIRER FUTURE

Women in the US demonstrating against Trump



100 years after women won the right to vote in Britain, the battle for equality is being waged worldwide. Photograph: ZUMA Wire/Rex

Politicians could make 2018 the year that women matter, not by talking about equality but by creating it. Not by telling women to try harder – (“All you need to lift centuries of oppression is to ask better for that pay rise and stop making lifestyle decisions about babies”) – but by understanding the structural inequalities holding women back. By remaking our economy, our society and our institutions.

That would mean understanding that harassment is caused by a power imbalance and is not the result of occasional deviant behaviour; that austerity and welfare cuts damage women because they are designed to; that unaffordable childcare hurts national productivity; that we all get less from gender-blind spending choices.

We could all share care if paternity leave was funded and extended. We would all value it if we saw the benefits of investment in it: care yields twice the economic benefit of investing in construction. The next generation could thrive on relationships based on consent and respect if we taught equality in classrooms. And ending competitive tendering of women’s services could give the specialists who understand how to end violence against women and girls sustainable grant funding to do that work.

We could create a fairer future. If Brexit is the process of remaking our relationship with the world, women must be at the negotiating table. If Brexit is the result of our qualms about immigration, we must build a new system that gives women equal chances to build new lives, with access to public funds. If Brexit is opportunities for all, then women’s jobs and rights must be protected and extended as part of trade talks.

2018 marks the centenary of a small group of white, wealthy women winning the right to vote. It should also mark the year when all women, in all their glorious diversity, could finally vote for their equality.

Sophie Walker is a former journalist and the leader of the Women’s Equality party

Books: Jonny Geller
WE’LL WANT ‘REAL’ PEOPLE AND NUANCED STORIES

Piles of books



Books will offer both an escape from reality and insights into the way the world of 2018 works. Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

We have seen a shift in the nonfiction market to “authentic” voices such as memoirs of doctors (Adam Kay’s bestseller, This is Going to Hurt), nurses (Language of Kindness by Christie Watson, to be published in May), shepherds (James Rebanks’s No1 bestseller The Shepherd’s Life) and surgeons (Henry Marsh, Paul Kalanithi). I suspect this trend of “real” people writing about “real” experiences will continue.

But it is fiction that gives voice to our greatest fears and the political upheavals of 2017 have proved a great distraction to the necessary occupation of reading fiction. I can see sweeping love stories that take us away from the Twitter rages of world leaders (Ruth Jones of Gavin and Stacey fame and Jojo Moyes have new books out early in 2018), complex thrillers that take us closer to how the world works (McMafia on BBC1 from 1 January is taken from Misha Glenny’s book on the links between international crime and business), and fantastical stories to transport us (Harvill’s big debut, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar).

Added to this, the Weinstein earthquake and its inability to swallow Trump will result in a new narrative conversation. In the 80s and 90s, movies such as Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Disclosure emerged from Hollywood’s sense of a perceived threat posed by a new working female population, and I suspect Hollywood will find a way to give voice to the #MeToo movement. I also believe one response to “populism” will be detailed and specific stories of human struggle, filled with nuance, complexity and ambiguity. Most of all, the huge diversity of voices in Britain that have been waiting to be heard will find a place in the mainstream, and as we move away from continental Europe politically and economically, we will find expression in the bigger questions and multifarious voices in this country.

Jonny Geller is a writer, book agent and joint chief executive of Curtis Brown