The canon. The beautiful basics of science

Once in a while you stumble upon a book that will change the way you see and approach things. This is one of them. Natalie Angier, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the NYT (booksite), has written a book for those of us who need beauty, involvement and lateral thinking to get into science. It’s all here: Thinking scientifically. Probability. Calibration. Physics. Chemistry. Evolutionary Biology. Molecular Biology. Geology. Astronomy.

Excerpt: “As youth flowers into maturity, the barrier between nerd and herd grows taller and thicker and begins to sprout thorns. Soon it seems nearly unbreachable. When my hairstylist told me he was planning to visit Puerto Rico, where I’d been the previous summer, and I recommended that he visit the Arecibo radio telescope on the northwestern side of the island, he looked at me as though I’d suggested he stop by a manuafacturer of laundry detergent. “Why on earth would I want to do that?” he asked. “Because it’s one of the biggest telescopes in the world, it’s open to the public, and it’s beautiful and fascinating and looks like a giant mirrored candy dish from the 1960s lodged in the side of a cliff?” I said. “Huh,” he said, taking a rather large snip from my bangs. “Because it has a great science museum to go with it and you’ll learn a lot about the cosmos?” “I’m not one of those techie types, you know,” he said. Snip snip snip snip snip.” (p. 3)

My teachers managed to drill the love of science out of us at school. Just look at this picture by Martin Heade, soon to be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in an art exhibition entitled “Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts“. How can you not love science?

Martin Heade, Cattleya Orchid and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds, 1871, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Martin Heade, Cattleya Orchid and Three Brazilian Hummingbirds, 1871, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


About this poem:

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was Frost’s favorite of his own poems. In a letter to Louis Untermeyer he called it “my best bid for remembrance.” On “the darkest evening of the year”, the winter solstice (21 December), he pauses to enjoy the “world of the woods”, with its peace and solitude, which exists side by side with that other “world of people and social obligations”. Both worlds have claims on the poet, are “established and balanced“. A metaphysical interpretation of the poem is that the poet is in fact thinking of death, which doesn’t seem menacing in this “lovely, dark and deep” setting; but he still has the rest of his life to live – the “miles to go before I sleep”. It reminds me of the many, many wonderful walks I have had in the woods in winter, the tranquility and joy that engulf me every year around this time.

Over the holidays I wish you, dear reader, a peaceful and restful break from all of those “miles” you have gone and plan to go.


Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the curator of Dokumenta 13 in 2012, answered the question where she was from by saying “HWGSATQ – How would Gertrude Stein answer that question?” and then explained that she was conceived in Italy, grew up in Richmond and “returned” to Italy later in life. “Heimat ist eine multiple Erfahrung und Simplifizierungen erscheinen wenig nützlich.” (SZ 4 Dec. 2008)

Gertrude Stein found concise words for complicated things:

America is my country and Paris is my hometown.
A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears.
I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. It’s better to be rich.

Anne Enright

Anne Enright will be reading from The Gathering, which won the Booker Prize 2007, with Katharina Thalbach at Literaturhaus on Wednesday, 19 November 2008 at 8pm. (See Dolcevita’s announcement for details in German.) Tickets: 089 / 291934-27.

Anne Enright has the most amazing view of the world. Down-to-earth. Physical. Womanly. Just read her short article My Milk. I’m very excited about this particular reading, because Katharina Thalbach is going to be there, an actress I simply adore. Look, here she is in her newest film, Der Mond und andere Liebhaber (Comedydrama German 2008, Neue Visionen, 101 minutes, premiered on 24 July 2008):

David Sedaris ex post

A wonderful evening at Literaturhaus. Sedaris is not only a masterful comic writer, he is also charming, approachable, real. And he loves to autograph books. He read from his newest one, “When You are Engulfed in Flames” (also available as an audio book or in German, “Schöner wird’s nicht“), which I can warmly recommend. What he and Gerd Köster read from the book:
Road Trips
With a Pal Like this, Who Needs Enemies?
All the Beauty You Will Ever Need
Memento Mori

Question and Answer Session:

On “Kuchen”: He told us he had gone to the Alte Pinakothek to have cake… the best he has ever had… and was just amazed about the word “Mutterkuchen” (for placenta).

On the internet: Not really interested except that he lies in bed wondering if there’s a webcam on Russell Crowe

On Obama: How frustrating it was to be abroad on The Big Night (he voted absentee, too); how the French loved to say America wouldn’t elect a black man; and how now when they come and say “yeah, Obama,” he says to them, “Oh, go and get yourself your own black president.”

On the title and cover of his new book: That Walmart didn’t like it and wanted a different cover because they found it “depressing”, but he said a store that creates so much ugliness in the world should not even have the right to use the word “depressing”.