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Albert Einstein, Portrait While Visiting White House, Washington DC, USA, Harris & Ewing, 1921

Source: Universal History Archive / Getty

If there’s one thing the recent news cycle has taught us, it’s that we probably shouldn’t be so quick to put a “genius” on a pedestal, because they’ll likely one day say some stupid sh*t.

Enter The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein, which reveal the German-born Jewish scientist, who was targeted by the Nazis, was no shining exception. Despite his legacy as an advocate for human rights (and his self-proclaimed empathy toward Black people as “victims of discrimination”), his now-available private writings reveal “a clear hallmark of racism,” as stated by Ze’ev Rosenkranz, assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology and the editor of the book. The writings cover a five-and-a-half-month trip he took into the Far East and the Middle East from October 1922 to March 1923.

In an email to the New York Times, Rosenkranz added that Einstein’s travel diaries—which were previously only available in German—provide “an insight into his prejudices, opinions, and attitudes on the members of foreign nations, but also on the national/ethnic groups he belonged to himself: the Jews, the Germans and the Europeans.”

His Theory of Relativity may have been progressive, but the way in which he viewed the world was not. Below, a few excerpts from his diary entries, as shared by the New York Times.


  • Einstein writes that the residents of Colombo “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” and “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”

Hong Kong

  • Einstein expresses empathy for “stricken people, men and women, who beat stones daily and must heave them for five cents a day, adding that “the Chinese are severely punished for the fecundity by the insensitive economic machine.”
  • “The Chinese are incapable of being trained to think logically and that they specifically have no talent for mathematics.”
  • “I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthralls the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring.”


  • “Intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones — natural disposition?”

Mainland China

  • Einstein describes the people he sees as “industrious,” “filthy,” and “obtuse.”
  • “Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.”
  • “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”


  • Einstein describes a funeral as “barbaric for our taste.”
  • “In the air there is a stench of never-ending manifold variety.”
  • “Even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. A peculiar herd-like nation, often more like automatons than people.”