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06 OCTOBER, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant: Witty Comics about Historical & Literary Figures

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Training for presidents, Victorian dude-spotting, and what the Brontë Sisters have to do with Jules Verne.

From New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton comes Hark! A Vagrant — a witty and wonderful collection of comics about historical and literary figures and events, based on her popular web comic of the same name. Scientists and artists, revolutionaries and superheroes, suffragists and presidents — they’re all there, as antique hipsters, and they’re all skewered with equal parts comedic and cerebral prod.

Beaton, whose background is in history and anthropology, has a remarkable penchant for conveying the momentous through the inane, aided by a truly special gift for simple, subtle, incredibly expressive caricature. From dude spotting with the Brontë Sisters to Nikola Tesla and Jane Austen dodging groupies, the six-panel vignettes will make you laugh out loud and slip you a dose of education while you aren’t paying attention.

I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you’ve enjoyed them, then I will be more than pleased! If you’re just in it for the silly stuff, then there is plenty of that to go around, too.” ~ Kate Beaton

Beaton is also a masterful writer, her dialogue and captions adding depth to what’s already an absolute delight.

Handsome and hilarious, the six-panel stories in Hark! A Vagrant will undo all the uptightness about history instilled in you by academia, leaving you instead with a hearty laugh and some great lines for dinner party conversation.

Images courtesy of Kate Beaton / Drawn and Quarterly

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06 OCTOBER, 2011

Bob Dylan & Other Icons Resurrect the Unfinished Lost Songs of Hank Williams

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What Jack White has to do with dumpster-diving for music history.

Legendary singer-songwriter Hank Williams was only 29 when he died in the back of a car in 1953, yet in his short life he shaped the course of American music for decades to come. Some of the most celebrated rock’n’roll pioneers — including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins — got their start recording Williams songs. He has a posthumous special citation from the Pulitzer Prize, he’s been inducted into just about every American music hall of fame, and earlier this year he entered the loftiest of them all, the Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 2006, while handling a company dumpster, a janitor of Sony/ATV Music Publishing made a serendipitous discovery: In the dumpster were the unfinished lyrics found in Williams’s car the night he died. The lyrics eventually made their way to Bob Dylan in 2008, who set out to complete the songs for an affectionate album release celebrating Williams’s legacy. Three years in the making, the remarkable The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams is out this week and features a formidable roster of musicians performing Williams’s unfinished songs, including Jack White, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Alan Jackson, Sheryl Crow, and of course Dylan himself.

You can sample the goodness below and hear the entire Jack White track on Rolling Stone’s exclusive stream.

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06 OCTOBER, 2011

The Magic of Reality: Richard Dawkins Teaches Children to Fight Myth with Science

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What Scandinavian folklore has to do with DNA, or how to myth-bust creationism with the poetry of science.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins — who in 1976 famously coined the term “meme” in his seminal, must-read book The Selfish Gene — is nowadays best-known as the world’s most celebrated atheist. This week, Dawkins brings us his first sort-of-children’s book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True — a scientific primer for the world, its magic, and its origin, an antidote to the creationism mythology teaching young readers how to replace myth with science, and a fine addition to our favorite soft-of-children’s nonfiction.

With beautiful illustrations by graphic artist Dave McKean, Dawkins’ volume is as accessible as it is illuminating, covering a remarkable spectrum of subjects and natural phenomena — from who the very first person was to how earthquakes work to what dark matter is — in a way that infuses reality with the kind of fascination and whimsy we’re used to finding in myth and folklore. Each chapter begins with a famous myth from one of the world’s religions or folklore traditions, which Dawkins proceeds to myth-bust by examining the actual scientific processes and phenomena that these stories try to explain.

Here’s an introduction from Dawkins himself:

The Guardian’s Tim Radford sums it up nicely:

I cannot think of a better, or simpler, introduction to science as a good idea: simpler, because the starting point is the world’s palpable, experienced reality rather than say formal subjects such as genetics, wave mechanics or astrophysics; better, because it could hardly be more up-to-date.”

BBC has a great short segment, in which Dawkins explores the relationship between comfort and truth, and explains why evolution is the most magical, spellbinding story of all, more poetic than any fable or fairy tale:

When you think about it, here we are, we started off on this planet — this fragment of dust spinning around the sun — and in 4 billion years we gradually changed form bacteria into us. That is a spellbinding story.” ~ Richard Dawkins

The book comes with a companion immersive iPad app.

In an age when we’re still struggling to convince the powers that be of the value of public science and some public schools still perpetuate the mythology of creationism, Dawkins delivers a sober yet wildly absorbing and magical dose of reality in The Magic of Reality — one that brings to mind Jonah Lehrer’s reformulation of the famous Picasso quote: “Every child is a natural scientist. The problem is how to remain a scientist once we grow up.”

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