Albert Einstein could visualize the universe but apparently had trouble recognizing the humanity in front of him.
A newly published English translation of travel diaries from the scientific genius shows that he expressed racist and xenophobic views in private, according to the BBC.
The entries in The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922–1923 were made during a period when Einstein visited the Middle East, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon), China and Japan.
In one entry he described the Chinese as “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” and criticized them because they “don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods,” according to CNN.
They are “a peculiar herd-like nation,” he wrote, “often more like automatons than people.”
In another entry Einstein said, “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races.” He added, “For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”
He insulted other cultures as well. He described the people of Port Said, Egypt, as “screaming and gesticulating Levantines of every shade, who lunge at our ship. As if spewed from hell.”
He also griped that the “rickshaw coolies” of Sri Lanka were “intrusive” and “primitive.”
The New York Times notes that the entries show a side of the man a long way from the humanitarian who said things like “Being a Jew myself, perhaps I can understand and empathize with how black people feel as victims of discrimination.”
The book’s editor, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, agrees and doesn’t excuse Einstein’s remarks.
“I think a lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant — what he says about the Chinese in particular,” he told The Guardian. “They’re kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it’s quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements. They’re more off guard, he didn’t intend them for publication.”
Some might argue that Einstein’s comments simply reflect the era, but Rosenkranz hopes the diaries inspire people to examine their own beliefs.
“We need to look at our own prejudices and attitudes,” he told CNN. “We need to not just be judgmental about Einstein but to have an honest look at ourselves as well.”