Hunter S. Thompson couldn’t have made it up if he’d tried: Out-of-work editor Michael Paterniti chauffeurs a fuddy duddy ex pathologist on a cross-country drive from New Jersey to California – carrying, in the trunk of his car in a Tupperware container, the cut-up remnants of Einstein’s brain. Sounds trippy. Except, as Paterniti’s delightful memoir Driving Mr. Albert attests, it wasn’t an LSD-induced hallucination.
The pathologist, Thomas Harvey, was on duty the night Einstein died, and obeying one of those inexplicable human urges, he autopsied not only the great man’s body but also his brain, later taking it home for safekeeping. The decision lost him his job and rendered him a shadowy figure of urban-myth folktales. When the author tracked him down, Harvey was retired, thrice divorced, and finally planning to make peace with the Einstein family (thus the trip to California, where Albert’s granddaughter lives).
Partly the story of an odd-couple friendship, the book is mostly an insightful look at our strange attraction to, and obsession with, relics. Whether brains or scraps of a rock star’s clothing, Paterniti illuminates them, with exceptional skill, as the magical repositories of our dreams and yearnings.