Somewhere in the mountains of West Virginia, there lives a rooster named Albert Einstein.
There’s also a chicken – Alberta. Both are Polish chickens, possessing a remarkable likeness to their namesake via a shock of white feathers on their heads.
The chickens’ namer and owner is Benyamin Cohen, who, in addition to being a chicken farmer with his wife Elizabeth, is the news director of the Forward, the man behind Albert Einstein’s very active social media presence, and the author of a recent book, “The Einstein Effect: How the World’s Favorite Genius Got into Our Cars, Our Bathrooms, and Our Minds.”
Cohen, 48, has been an Einsteinite since college, when he was first introduced to the story of Einstein’s brain via a book called “Driving Mr. Albert,” which details the harrowing tale of the pathologist – Thomas Harvey – who stole Albert Einstein’s brain and eventually – though momentarily– decided to return it to the dead physicist’s granddaughter (He changed his mind at the last minute).
The book told Cohen two things: One, Albert Einstein was and remains extremely cool; and two, journalism that centers on the quirky is the kind of journalism that he wanted to do.
“That’s kind of defined my whole journalism career – finding the quirky,” Cohen said. “That’s my specialty.”
Cohen’s first book, “My Jesus Year,” documents his journey around the Bible Belt, an orthodox rabbi’s son seeking religious clarity at 52 churches over the course of a year. In line with this sense of curiosity and adventure, “The Einstein Effect’’ is also an undeniably quirky read. Readers find themselves on a Tom Wolfe-type journey of experiential discovery in Cohen’s quest to reveal the infinite ways that Einstein has touched the world today.
He tracks down the secretive scientist who currently possesses the remains of Einstein’s brain – the mysterious Dr. X, who refuses to be named for the book, but consents to take Cohen on a vomit-inducing small plane ride. He meets Avi Loeb, the Harvard astrophysicist pioneering space research (and intelligent alien life), and actor/activist Mandy Patinkin, who serves as spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee that Einstein founded. He writes about aliens, GPS, time travel, refugee crises, Zionism, and celebrity. You learn: If you’ve heard of it, Einstein’s probably got something to do with it.
Much of what appears in the book stemmed from six years of Cohen writing articles about Einstein, simply because he found the man to be so fascinating. In 2017, someone noticed: the Einstein estate, based out of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“They can write science and heavy physics and post it on there, but that’s not going to accomplish anything. They want to get non-scientists interested in Einstein,” Cohen said.
He currently manages the accounts catering to over 700 thousand X, 1.3 million Instagram, and 20 million Facebook followers. He’s done so well that he was recently contacted by the J. Robert Oppenheimer and Thomas Edison estates to run those dead guys’ social media accounts, too.
“The whole point of Einstein social media is to teach a new generation, to get a young generation interested in Einstein,” Cohen said. “I realize how important it is. I realize how important he is to people.”
In the introduction of his book, he recounted the story of Ivanka Trump tweeting an inaccurate Einstein quote. “That is until Albert Einstein himself rose from the dead to correct her,” he wrote. A mild media frenzy ensued from the incident, enshrining Cohen as the witty ghost of the most famous scientist ever to live.
And yet, even with this awesome power, Cohen maintains a certain comedic self-deprecation. He calls himself, jovially, “a likable idiot.”
So was Einstein, Cohen said.
Getting to know this part of Einstein is a piece of the book as well; he who couldn’t quite grasp the need to go to the barber, or wear socks, or change out of his pajamas; who would toss his hat in the air and stick his tongue out at paparazzi so they could get a good shot; who turned down an offer to be president of Israel.
“When I give my speeches, I talk about Einstein’s head and Einstein’s heart,” Cohen said. “So Einstein’s head is all these great ideas that he came up with, like GPS and all these other things. And then Einstein’s heart is his humanitarian side.”
This is Cohen’s great controversial argument: Einstein will be remembered for his humanitarian efforts more than he will be for his scientific discoveries.
“I still think today if you walk up to somebody, they’re going to say ‘Einstein is a scientist,’ ” Cohen said. “But maybe 100 years from now, I think people are going to say ‘Einstein, the humanitarian.’”