1879 — Albert Einstein is born

One of the most influential scientists of all time, who revolutionized physics and had no small effect on global politics while he was at it, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, in what was then the Kingdom of Württemberg in the German Empire. He and his family were non-observant Jews, but it’s not like that mattered to the Nazis in 1933, when Einstein moved to the United States.

From undistinguished beginnings, Einstein would become the most famous scientist of the 20th century, devising both the General and Special Theories of Relativity, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, being a key advisor of President Franklin Roosevelt regarding atomic weapons, and even being offered the Presidency of Israel in 1952 (he declined). Time Magazine named him the Person of the Century in 1999.

Referenced in:

The Big Bang Theory — Barenaked Ladies

1883 – Karl Marx dies

One of the most influential public intellectuals in the history of the world, Karl Marx, it should be noted, was no relation to the Marx Brothers. What he was instead was an economist, a sociologist, a theorist, a philosopher and a writer. His books “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto” shaped the Twentieth Century in a way few others can lay claim to (“Mein Kampf” and “The Bible” are just about the only other books that even compete).

Marx was the originator, though not the founder, of Marxism. As a political movement that still lives on today, and under which more than a fifth of the world’s population lives, its influence is impossible to ignore. He is also one of the founding figures (along with Emile Durkheim and Max Weber) of the discipline of sociology, and his influence dominates many university sociology departments even today.

Marx was born a German, and lived there in his early life. In 1843 he moved to Paris, thence to Brussels in 1845 after the French government kicked him out, and finally to London in 1849. From here, Marx worked on his various philosophical books and engaged in political journalism (including a lengthy stint writing for the New York Tribune). He died at the age of 64 in 1883 after a lengthy illness, and was buried in London’s Highgate Cemetary. At the time of his death, his works were just beginning to find an audience, but their influence would grow by leaps and bounds over the next sixty years.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

March 14, 1974 — Russell Hoban begins writing “Riddley Walker”

Russell Hoban was always somewhat peripatetic in his writing interests. While he tended to return to the same themes, he was far less loyal to genres. “Riddley Walker” is one of his best known novels, and as the only major work of science fiction he wrote, is representatively unrepresentative of his oeuvre.

It concern a young man in a world (ours, about two millennia after a nuclear war) who stumbles on a plan to build a super-weapon. The novel took Hoban more than five and half years to write, and won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel in 1982, as well as an Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award in 1983. (It was also nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982, but lost to Gene Wolfe’s “The Claw of the Conciliator”.)