Brain Pickings

Pursuit of Light: NASA and Moby Capture the Magic of the Cosmos

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“Stars afire, the endless void recedes.”

NASA may have given us decades of cosmic awe, but the agency’s future and thus the future of space exploration are hanging by a thread. Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that the only way to get NASA back on track is to get those to whom the president is accountable — the electorate, “we the people” — excited about space exploration again, and Pursuit of Light, a beautiful short film from NASA with original music by Moby, seeks to do exactly that. With my jaw agape and my breath a gasp just a few seconds into it, I dare say it is succeeding — it’s the most magnificent reminder of the whimsy of the universe since The Sagan Series.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

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Litographs: Classic Books as Typographic Prints Supporting Global Literacy

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Literature and art converge to combat book famine and bibliowaste.

A modern paradox: While the developing world is experiencing the worst “book famine” in decades, an estimated 40% of books printed in the “developed world” go to waste, eventually destroyed by the publishers themselves. Having a tremendous soft spot for art and design projects inspired by literary classics, I love everything about Danny Fein’s Litographs project, which addresses this paradox through beautiful prints by a team of artists, made of upcycled classic texts, many in the public domain. The books remain fully legible in the final print. Thanks to a partnership with the International Book Bank, every print sold sends a book to a community in need.

The Moby-Dick litograph is the loveliest take on the Melville classic since Matt Kish’s page-by-page illustrations.

'Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes approximately the first third of Moby Dick. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first sixth of the book.

For a fine complement to the wonderful Beholding Holden artwork, a knock-out litograph of The Catcher in the Rye:

'What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of The Catcher in the Rye. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.

As a lover of all things Alice in Wonderland, the Alice litograph makes my heart sing.

'If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The 18 x 24 inch print includes the full text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Though it’s hard to outshine Stefanie Posavec’s Writing Without Words project based on the Jack Kerouac classic, this On The Road litograph is quite lovely:

'I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of On the Road. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.

'...for the shield may be as important for victory, as the sword or spear.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes approximately the first third of On the Origin of Species. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first sixth of the book.

All the litographs are available in color as well as black-and-white, and you can see the full full collection on the project site.

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Harry Benson’s Luminous Black-and-White Photographs of The Beatles, 1964-1966

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From pillow fights to world domination, or what Beatlemania has to do with Jesus Christ.

The past year has been a boon for seeing The Beatles with new eyes — from their tour manager’s never-before-published tour photos to Linda McCartney’s tender portraits to rediscovered vintage children’s books — but count on Taschen to up the ante on any cultural trope. The newly released The Beatles: On the Road 1964-1966 is a lavish collection of hundreds of Harry Benson’s luminous black-and-white photographs of the Fab Four at close quarters — from ecstatic encounters with fans to quiet moments in the recording studio to playful boyish frolicking.

Benson’s own Beatle story is an unlikely one — in 1964, while boarding a plane for a foreign assignment in Africa, he got a call from the editor of London’s The Daily Express and was dispatched to Paris instead, with The Beatles, to document French Beatlemania. Personable and warm, Benson was quickly welcomed into the Fab Four’s inner circle. At the cusp of their exorbitant global celebrity, he managed to capture some of their most intimate and genuine moments on film. (That famous photograph of The Beatles having a pillow fight at the George V Hotel was his.) From their first visit to the U.S., complete with New York hysteria, to their adventures on the set of A Hard Day’s Night to their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Benson was there to capture it all, even the impact of Lennon’s controversial comment that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus Christ.”

An introductory essay by Benson himself, complete with newspaper clippings from the era, adds first-hand context to the remarkable photos. He writes:

These photos convey a really happy period for them and for me. It all comes down to music, they were without a doubt the greatest band of the 20th century, and that’s why these photographs are so important.

Images courtesy of Taschen / © Harry Benson

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