Brain Pickings

Bompas & Parr, Jelly Architects


Last year, we looked at artists creating incredible edible landscapes out of food, condiments and spices. But hardly does the unusual medium become a greater feat of architecture than when its raw material is the least architectural of substances: jelly. Just ask British food consultancy Bompas & Parr, better known as Jellymongers.

In this short documentary, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr talk about the whimsical “food experiences” they’re known for, and how they rendered everything from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Buckingham Palace in gelatinous form using their signature blend of science, cutting-edge technology and architecture — just the kind of cross-pollinating of disciplines we believe is fundamental to creativity.

The whole reason we events is to give people their own stories. They’re very active participants. If you go into a restaurant, you don’t want to be talked at by a waiter the entire time. Actually, the really important thing is the conversations you have with your diners around us and around the food.”

The film comes from the fine folks at Berlin-based visual culture mongers Gestalten, who also brought us the excellent Shepard Fairey interview on copyright, Big Brother and social change, among other fantastic micro-documentaries about creative culture mavericks and pioneers.

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How Cancer Became Cancer and What Its Future Holds: A Pulitzer-Winning Biography of the Dreaded Disease


The highly contested nonfiction category of the Pulitzer Prize is as much a measure of good writing as it is a reflection of the era’s cultural concerns. The 2011 nonfiction winner was The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (public library) by Columbia professor of medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee — an intelligent and illuminating medical and sociocultural history of the ubiquitous disease, from its origin to the first recorded cases to modern medicine’s ongoing struggle to find effective treatment.

Mukherjee writes:

When I started writing this book, I thought of cancer as a disease. But as I wrote more and more about it, it seemed as though it was not just a disease but something that envelops our lives so fully that it was writing about someone. It was like writing about an alter personality, an illness that had a psyche, a behavior, a pattern of existing.

The book begins with the stories of pathologist Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker, who is credited with launching the war on cancer by urging scientists and the government to race for a cure of the little-understood killer.

The second half of the narrative shifts from the cultural to the scientific context of humanity’s battle with the disease, focusing on the incremental yet game-changing discoveries of a various brilliant scientists over the past half-century as the scientific community raced to understand how cell become cancerous in order to better address prevention and treatment.

So fascinating is the book that one dedicated fan used its narrative to extract a visual timeline of cancer from 1950 to the present:

With its blend of cultural anthropology, rigorous research, and genuine empathy, The Emperor of All Maladies is, as the Pulitzer unequivocally implies, a pinnacle of nonfiction that oscillates between the profoundly distressing cultural tyranny of a presently incurable disease and the relentless scientific exhilaration embedded in the very possibility of unraveling this great and all-consuming mystery.

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Everything Is Going To Be OK: Aesthetic Anesthesia for the Soul


An antidote to cynicism by way of typography, or what it’s all right to have everything you want.

In a world brimming with cynicism, it’s a rare and wonderful occasion to find an oasis of sincerity and optimism. That’s exactly what we found in the recently released Everything Is Going To Be OK — an absolutely lovely pocket-sized anthology of positive artwork from a diverse lineup of indie artists, designers and illustrators, including Brain Pickings favorites Marian Bantjes, Marc Johns and Mike Perry. What makes the book exceptional is that it manages to take existential truisms we’d ordinarily roll our eyes at, reframe them in a context of honesty and simplicity, and deliver them through such outstanding graphic design that the medium itself becomes part of the delight of the message.

Everything Is Going To Be OK is reminiscent of the lovely Live Now! project and Mico Toledo’s Music Philosophy, an absolute treat of design and a priceless existential reminder of what we too often forget: Life is beautiful, our fellow human beings are good, and happiness is within our reach.

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NASA + William Shatner: Space Shuttle’s Legacy


This month, NASA announced that after 30 years of spaceflight and over 130 missions, its Space Shuttle Program fleet will be retiring to an earthly resting place. To commemorate the fleet’s remarkable legacy, NASA produced this fantastic short documentary, narrated by none other than William Shatner:

An idea born in unsettled times becomes a feat of engineering excellence. The most complex machine ever built to bring humans to and from space and eventually construct the next stop on the road to space exploration.”

The film comes mere days after public outrage over proposed NASA budget cuts, along with NASA’s own appeals, finally appeared to have moved Congress to approve a healthier funding grant of $18.5 billion. Meanwhile, ordinary NASA fans continue to churn out extraordinary tributes that attempt to bridge the frustrating gap between NASA’s deeply inspirational work and the toothless official communication about it.

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