Brain Pickings

Victorian Women in Crime

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Long before there was Superwoman, Lara Croft or even Mata Hari, there was a dangerous and suspicous character known as the New Woman — a Victorian rebel who rode bikes, spoke with cutting wit, and took orders from no one. In The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes, Penguin editor Michael Sims orchestrates a meet-and-greet with the most notorious crime-fighting females of Victorian literature, from Loveday Brooke to Dorcas Dene to Lady Molly of Scotland Yard. Though rooted in fiction, the book bespeaks the era’s restlessness for the empowerment of women, embodying culture’s tendency to first imagine social shifts, then enact them.

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime is out this week and highly recommended. It’s the sequel to 2009′s equally excellent The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime: Con Artists, Burglars, Rogues, and Scoundrels from the Time of Sherlock Holmes.

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David Carter’s Pop-Up Books for Children of All Ages

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Given my spot for all things pop-up and unrelenting belief in lifelong childhood, I absolutely adore David Carter’s wonderful series of pop-up books for children of all ages.

One Red Dot is a graphically ambitous gem that invites you to find one red dot hidden in each of 18 paper sculptures.

One Red Dot pop-up book

One Red Dot pop-up book

Blue 2 pairs Carter’s tenderly architectural paper sculptures fragmented text stringing together words in alphabetical order, asking the reader to look for a hidden “Blue-2″ on each of nine stunning spreads. Though arguably far too abstract for the recommended 4-8 age range, with vocabulary that might make even an MBA stumble, the book is so aesthetically mesmerizing that it sparks a visceral, intuitive understanding of the words.

Blue 2 pop-up book

600 Black Spots is another brilliant scavenger hunt of a pop-up, spanning across 20 gloriously engineered, endlessly entertaining pages to hide — and invite you to seek — 600 black dots.

600 Black Spots pop-up book

Yellow Square takes Carter’s signature paper sculptures to a new level by incorporating unusual, unexpected found materials like yarn, netting, and beautiful translucent waxy paper. A yellow square is hidden on each marvelously engineered page, tucked between stunning illustrations in primary colors that invite you to probe and interact, inevitably extracting a well-deserved “wow.”

White Noise is Carter’s latest gem, concluding his phenomenal series with an interactive pop-up book that plays with multiple senses: Touching, seeing and, now, hearing. Vibrant and poetic as ever, his beautifully engineered paper creations are accompanied by subtle yet rich sound effects produced as you touch the sculptural marvels — an absolute sensory treat, whether you’re 4 or 104.

White Noise pop-up book

White Noise pop-up book

Playful and poetic, Carter’s books are a three-dimensional manifesto for perpetual curiosity and the eternal child within.

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Isaac Asimov on Science and Creativity in Education

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What vintage science fiction has to do with the future of self-directed learning.

I’m deeply fascinated by how the past envisioned the future. Previously: retrofuturistic artwork, Orson Welles’ Future Shock techno-paranoia, a vision for the iPad 23 years before the iPad, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” concept, and a living timecapsule of futurism by cultural luminaries.

Now comes a brilliant bit from beloved sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, the quintessential futurist, interviewed here by Bill Moyers in 1988. Recorded upon the publication of Assimov’s 391st book, Prelude to Foundation, this three-part interview offers a rare peek inside one of history’s most fascinating minds. Asimov shares invaluable insights on science, computing, religion, population growth and the universe, and echoes some of own beliefs in the power of curiosity-driven self-directed learning and the need to implement creativity in education from the onset.

Eventually, Asimov predicts not only the very birth of the Internet, but also a number of today’s digital darlings, from standbys like Wikipedia to hot-shots du jour like Quora, as well as recently buzzworthy concepts like Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — the notion that advances in technology are freeing up more human thought to be put towards creative, pro-social endeavors.

Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.

Sound familiar?

Moyers: But what about the argument that machines, computers, dehumanize learning?

Asimov: As a matter of fact, it’s just the reverse. It seems to me that, through this machine, for the first time we’ll be able to have a one-to-one relationship between information source and information consumer.

Sound familiar?

Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature, it’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match.

For more of Asimov’s cunning insight on the role of science and creativity in education, we highly recommend The Roving Mind — a compelling collection of 62 edifying essays on everything from creationism to censorship to the philosophy of science, in which Asimov predicts with astounding accuracy not only the technological developments of the future but also the complex public debates they have sparked, from cloning to stem-cell research.

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.