“All About Relativity: Einstein’s Theory Explained for The Lay-Mind in Simple Terms” (E11)

  • Originally Published: Vanity Fair, March 1920
  • First Reprinted: Never
  • Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley


Nothing earth-shattering here, as Benchley bends Einstein’s bolts from the blackness of space into a set of light goofs on gravity. RB mocks the incongruously chummy obscurantism that characterizes so much popular scientific discourse, laying a miserable crumb trail of the theory’s most easily digestible minutiae that leads absolutely nowhere. Promising to open up a worm hole between the lay reader’s mind and the core concepts of cutting-edge 20th century physics, RB then tosses the low hanging fruit of his obtuse inquiry aside without so much as an existential frisson. The author’s quarrel is not with Einstein, or with any of his fellow pioneers in the vanguard of space-time research, but rather with the newspaper and magazine hacks who come off like the half-assed evangels of a new cosmic theory whose power to illuminate never glimmers onto the page.

Published a couple of months after Benchley’s resignation from Vanity Fair in protest against the dismissal of Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood, this could very well be the erstwhile Managing Editor’s final piece for the magazine (I guess I won’t know that for sure until I complete my alphabetical survey). If so, he went out on a fittingly futile note.

Favourite Moment:
“When the professors have got this far in their explanation of Einstein’s Theory, they say that, of course, the whole thing is difficult to explain to the lay-mind, and that the best and most loyal thing to do is simply to take the scientists’ word for it and let it go at that.”

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