“Linnaeus’ Flower Clock” — Tom Clark


Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds — Martin Johnson Heade

Orchidaceae — Ernst Haeckel


Comparison of Scalp Skin and Onion — Leonardo da Vinci


New Rachel Carson Biography (Book Acquired, 11.13.2012)


On a Farther Shore is William Souder’s big, bold biography of Rachel Carson, whose long (and often poetic) essay Silent Spring changed the way many people thought about humanity’s changing relationship with the environment. Here’s publisher Crown/Random House’s blurb:

She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Royte gave Shore a good review in The New York Times; excerpt:

Souder is at his best when he places Carson’s intellectual development in context with the nascent environmental movement. The storm over “Silent Spring,” he notes, was a “cleaving point” in history when the “gentle, optimistic proposition called ‘conservation’ began its transformation into the bitterly divisive idea that would come to be known as ‘environmentalism.’” (Souder isn’t shy about expressing his own disappointment with what he views as a permanent wall between partisans, with nature and science pitted against an “unbreakable coalition of government and industry, the massed might of the establishment.”)

I’ll let Lucy have the last word:


William H. Gass: The Poet Is a Maker

–from William H. Gass’s essay “Finding a Form.”

Slavoj Žižek: “More Than Ever, We Need Philosophy Today” (On Philosophy vs. Science)

Studies of Embryos — Leonardo da Vinci

Ladybird Beetle Near Three Mile Island — Cornelia Hesse-Honegger


Siphonophorae — Ernst Haeckel

Chiroptera — Ernst Haeckel

Michel Houellebecq, Curmudgeonly Pain in the Ass

From Michel Houellebecq’s 2010 Paris Review interview:


You’ve said that you are “an old Calvinist pain-in-the-ass.” What do you mean?


I tend to think that good and evil exist and that the quantity in each of us is unchangeable. The moral character of people is set, fixed until death. This resembles the Calvinist notion of predestination, in which people are born saved or damned, without being able to do a thing about it. And I am a curmudgeonly pain in the ass because I refuse to diverge from the scientific method or to believe there is a truth beyond science.

Reading Kafka and Watching Lynch Will Make You Smarter

We knew it. Reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and watching David Lynch’s Blue Velvet at such a young, tender age, didn’t screw us up for nothing. According to a joint study to be published this month in the journal Psychological Science, researchers Proulx and Heine have linked engaging in non-linear, non-traditional narratives with improved ability to recognize patterns. Proulx: “People feel uncomfortable when their expected associations are violated, and that creates an unconscious desire to make sense of their surroundings. That feeling of discomfort may come from a surreal story, or from contemplating their own contradictory behaviors, but either way, people want to get rid of it. So they’re motivated to learn new patterns.” Cool.

Full press release after the jump, or, just try to make sense of this clip from one of our favorite Lynch films, INLAND EMPIRE

Continue reading “Reading Kafka and Watching Lynch Will Make You Smarter”

Liquefied Brain So Backs, It


When Biblioklept’s Chief Science Reporter Nicky Longlunch sent us this article about coked-up bees from The New York Times, we knew we had to give it the old Dada treatment, or in this case, the new Dada treatment. In 1920, Tristan Tzara gave the following directions:

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Of course, scissors and cutting and actual papers and bags can be messy and tiresome, not to mention terribly old fashioned. Luckily for us, there’s a hypertext version, and we used this Dada poem generator to make our own poem out of the NYT article. Here is our poem:

liquefied brain so backs, it

liquefied brain so backs, it
scientists Australia dropped freebase cocaine
freebase liquefied brain so in
in Australia freebase cocaine bees’
circulatory backs, dropped it brain
freebase on bees’ backs, so

much judgment, their behavior makes
like stimulates their behavior and
humans much their enthusiastic them
much humans cocaine judgment, their
much like alters their their
react bees makes like enthusiastic

its odor exhibit plummets syrup
exhibit coked-up bee cold turkey
bees symptoms stop test of
bee its score standard test
turkey its test associate syrup
exhibit turkey test of bee

The real article’s actually kinda sorta better. Try this (any of it) at home.

Science Friday


Who can resist a face like that? I found Rainbows, Curve Balls this week in a super-secret cache of books (dusty box inside of locked cabinet in corner of former teachers’ lounge). Some fool was going to throw the whole dealy away; luckily I was armed with curiosity and my trusty hammer (yes, I keep a hammer in my classroom)

In 1988’s Rainbows, Curve Balls, NPR’s own Ira Flatow explains belching, “Kitchen Magic,” the difference between vinyl and CDs and answers the age-old question, “Do airplane wings flap?” Good stuff.

A Wrinkle in Time

I loved this book as a kid. Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time explores the the intersections of space and time against a backdrop of adolescent angst. Our intrepid heroine Meg goes on a trans-dimensional quest to find her missing physicist father. Dad has disappeared due to his work on a project involving a tesseract. Go check out Tomorrowland’s brilliant write up of the tesseract.


The biblioklept in question with this one was a certain C**** **ll***, who worked at a book store in the mall. He kindly tore the cover in half and gave me the book gratis. I had to read it for my high school chemistry class. It turned out that I loved this book, to my surprise. My current copy is my wife’s. She also had to read the book for school. Hers has a cover.

Carl Sagan had mad science skillz. Sagan hypothesizes aliens as floating gas clouds, waxes on the multiverse theory, explains Einstein’s theory of relativity, discusses the possible effects of time travel on human history and answers a host of other “big questions.” Also, everything you ever wanted to know about Ptolemy, Kepler, and Brahe.

Cosmos is actually based on a multi-part TV special that starred Sagan, making it the only non-franchised book-based-on-TV-show that I’ve read. To my knowledge. Everyone should read this book, or at least read parts of it.