The new children’s book Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment, written by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, aims to introduce small children to the work of Albert Einstein. It’s a challenge that Patterson initially found a bit daunting.
“The Einstein estate wanted to hook up with a publisher and a writer who would make sure kids around the world were familiar with Albert Einstein and his science,” Patterson says in Episode 340 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And I guess because they’re Einstein people they were smart, and they insisted that it had to be entertaining, or kids wouldn’t read it.”
Patterson and Grabenstein decided to tell the story from the point-of-view of Maxine Einstein, a 12-year-old genius with a mysterious past. Max idolizes Albert Einstein, quotes him incessantly, and uses his ideas to solve problems. For example, at one point Max muses about whether she could use horse manure to heat her drafty tenement.
“It’s cool storytelling but it also has a little element of science to it,” Patterson says. “Kids like jokes about manure and things like that, so it gets them into it in a fun way.”
The initial proposal called for a character named ‘Max Einstein’ but gave no other details. It was Patterson’s idea to make the character female. “I said I’d like to make Max a girl because still in a lot of places, including Silicon Valley, it isn’t as easy for women to get jobs in science and math,” he says. “I didn’t know how they would feel about it, but they liked it a lot.”
He hopes that kids who read the book will be inspired to emulate Max and use science to change the world.
“What Chris and I hoped to do was, for kids that don’t really know anything about Einstein it would be sort of a nice introduction,” he says. “But for kids who are really into science, it would stimulate them to find out a lot more about Einstein. So that’s our hope.”
Listen to the complete interview with James Patterson in Episode 340 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
James Patterson on cyberterrorism:
“I don’t think people are aware of how real the threats are with cyberterrorism. You start thinking about burying some gold in the backyard or something, in case one of these things actually happens. Because it’s not just the case that the lights are going to go out for six hours. It’s possible that the lights go out for months, that all your bank records are gone—so there’s no record of where your money is or was—all your medical records are gone. Basically they just erase everything that there is, and we kind of have to reconstruct a society again. One of the things that maybe safeguards us a little bit is it’s not to any country’s advantage for the United States to go down. Because if we go down, everyone goes down, pretty much, in terms of the world economy.”
James Patterson on readers:
“Dozens of times I’ve had people talk about when a relative was dying, and they would sit there and read my books to them, which is touching. I mean, it’s very sad, but also very touching. I’ve had people talk about burying my books with relatives who really liked what I did—which is also a little strange but also very touching. … I did a signing in Kentucky once, and a woman came up and started crying. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s the matter?’ And she said, ‘I just have to tell you this. I had never read a single book in my life until I read one of the Alex Cross books—Along Came a Spider.’ She said, ‘That turned me on to reading, and even though it was difficult in the beginning for me to read a whole book, now—for the last five or six years—I read every single day and I love it.”
James Patterson on Bill Clinton:
“It was important for a book called The President Is Missing that the president dumps his Secret Service protection. And once he had, you have things like the president in this book driving a car, and I asked President Clinton, ‘When was the last time you drove a car?’ And he had to think about it, and he said, ‘Well, when Chelsea was learning how to drive at Camp David, I taught her down there.’ And then he said, ‘I was at one of the raceways, and they kind of let me go around in one of the cars once.’ And that’s it. He doesn’t drive anywhere. The Secret Service still drives him everywhere. I’ve golfed with him a couple times, and I let him drive the golf cart, and I’m putting my life in his hands, because he’s not the greatest driver.”
James Patterson on publishing:
“My real issue with [Jeff Bezos] was, please don’t try to hurt publishers. Because maybe 20 years from now we won’t need publishers, but right now we really do. If Ulysses came out and there were no publishers, it would go out on the internet and it would get like five ridiculously bad reviews, and it would disappear. Or if Infinite Jest came out, it would get four reviews that said ‘incomprehensible,’ ‘couldn’t understand a word,’ and it’s gone. So we need publishers right now to identify certain works, to bring people’s attention to certain writing. We really do need it, because right now that’s mostly not happening on the internet, certainly not on the level where it can reach most Americans, or even a decent percentage of them.”
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