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It is easy to forget that in 1905 or 1915 or 1950 Albert Einstein had an address. Cosmopolitan, refugee, genius each of these categories seems to leave him more a planetary citizen than a resident of turn-of-the-century Bern , Weimar Berlin , or McCarthy-era Princeton . Einstein no doubt multiplied this effect through his oracular pronouncements.

After all, when he asked, "How much choice did God have at the beginning of the universe?" he ceded little to the here and now. Especially in his later years, Einstein often depicted himself as outside the world, not well at human relations, ironically detached from his time, isolated in his search for an ever-more-unified physics and a more complete successor to Copenhagen quantum mechanics.

The Elusive Icon: Einstein

Indeed, over the decades, even Einstein's countenance has become something other than a face, as it morphed into a multinational logo. Bit by bit, his name emptied of specific significance until it could function as a placeholder for quips and advertisements: "He's no Einstein." His words--already, by the 1940s, quoted until they were evacuated of significance--have by the early twenty-first century been splintered into modules, stripped of context, and rendered into slogans on sale in quotation books. The Einstein that we encounter in daily life is one produced by millions of Web sites, repeated until they reach the vanishing point--another anodyne sign. But just as Einstein disappears into the neutral universalism of "Person of the Century"--friend of everyman, offensive to none--there is a curious twist. The most interesting work of the last years has begun to move in exactly the opposite direction, rematerializing this most famous disembodied brain.