Brain Pickings

Albert Einstein: How I See The World

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What the theory of relativity has to do with barefoot lectures and antisemitism in Europe.

Today is 3.14, which, besides being Pi day, is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. The iconic German theoretical physicist would’ve been 131 today, so we’re celebrating with Albert Einstein: How I See The World — a fantastic 2006 PBS documentary exploring his life, work and legacy, now free online in six parts. From his audacious scientific exploits to his notorious personal quirks to his controversial political convictions, the film is an essential piece of cultural history and a rare look at one of humanity’s greatest minds.

Historians, philosophers and scientists alike have spent decades trying to dissect the specific source of Einstein’s genius and his gift for ideas. Was it his keen analytical mind? His extraordinary computational ability? His eccentric way of withdrawing into his work? We believe a lot of it had to do with his remarkable curiosity and penchant for cross-disciplinary pattern recognition, something Hanna Loewy captures with wonderful eloquence:

It was like someone who looked for many, many, many dimensions, whether they be proven or not, and could see the whole.” ~ Hanna Loewy, family friend

You can catch the remaining four parts on YouTube. In a similar vein, OpenRoad Philosophical Library just released The World As I See It — a fascinating anthology of Einstein’s observations about life, religion, nationalism, and various personal topics that engaged his intellect. For more on Einstein’s unique brand of genius, you won’t go wrong with Einstein: His Life and Universe.

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Harvard’s Steven Pinker on Violence and Human Nature

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Harvard psycholinguist and prolific author Steven Pinker is among the most compelling thinkers of our time, with particularly perceptive insight into language and the human mind. Pinker has also done fascinating work on the history of violence, unearthing some surprising and counterintuitive findings that refute what contemporary media might suggest about the rate of violence in the world today.

In this excellent talk from 2010’s Harvard Thinks Big event, Pinker looks at two reasons for these misconceptions: Our cognitive limitations and our moral psychology.

Our intuitions about violence and the facts about violence go in opposite directions.

[…]

News media has the unprecedented ability to send cameramen to places in the world where violence takes place and beam them back to our laptop screens or television. Moreover, they have the programming philosophy “If it bleeds, it leads.”

In a cultural environment where we’re bombarded with doom-and-gloom messaging about human nature and the state of the world, Pinker’s research is a necessary and timely grounding element that puts reality into perspective. For a more in-depth look at his fascinating work on the subject, treat yourself to Pinker’s insightful and ennobling The Better Angels of Our Nature.

HT Open Culture

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5 Quirky Coloring Books for The Eternal Kid

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What gangsta rap has to do with children’s healthcare and mid-century illustration.

We love coloring books and genre-benders of kinds, so today we’re turning to five favorite coloring books that transcend the genre’s typical numerical age range and instead reach out, with quirk, humor and inspiration, to the eternal kid in all of us.

THE INDIE ROCK COLORING BOOK

British illustrator Andy J. Miller and Montreal-based creative nonprofit Yellow Bird Project capture the true pride point of indie music — quirky, colorful character — in the lovely Indie Rock Coloring Book — a wonderful collection of hand-illustrated activity pages, mazes, connect-the-dots, and coloring pages for indie icons like Bloc Party, The Shins, Iron & Wine, Broken Social Scene, Devendra Banhart, MGMT, The New Pornographers, The National, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

All proceeds from the book, which we originally reviewed in 2009, go towards Yellow Bird’s inspired mission to raise awareness and funds for meaningful charities and help independent artists find their audience.

GANGSTA RAP COLORING BOOK

From illustrator Anthony “Aye Jay” Morano comes Gangsta Rap Coloring Book — a witty line-drawn hall of fame of gansta rap, featuring 48 pages of the genre’s superstars, from Notorious B.I.G. to Compton and just about everyone who’s anyone in between.

It’s also worth noting that Morano self-published the book, an admirable feat as we continue to contemplate the future of publishing models.

The book is part of a trilogy, including Heavy Metal Fun Time Activity Book and Punk Rock Fun Time Activity Book.

BETWEEN THE LINES

Nonprofit RxArt is out to harness the healing power of art in helping sick children feel better by placing work by leading contemporary artists, from Jeff Koons to Will Cotton to Jason Middlebrook, in children’s healthcare facilities. Every year, they publish Between The Lines — a lovely coloring book 100% of proceeds from which go towards funding these inspired hospital projects. The latest edition of the book features over 50 original line drawings by some of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists, including Takashi Murakami, Ed Ruscha and Cynthia Rowley, plus a series of delightfully vibrant stickers designed by Nate Lowman and Mickalene Thomas.

Catch our full review, with background on RxArt’s phenomenal work, here.

THE WUGGLY UMPS AND OTHER DELIGHTS

We love the Tim-Burtonesque work of prolific midcentury illustrator Edward Gorey (1925-2010). There’s something darkly delightful about the mismatch between his grim aesthetic and his proclivity for “children’s” books. We recently gushed over his fantastic alphabet book, but it doesn’t end there: The Wuggly Ump and Other Delights Coloring Book is an eclectic menagerie of 22 beasts and creatures from Gorey’s most beloved books. The title comes from on of Gorey’s best-known monsters, an Ump renowned for its Wuggliness.

THE SNEAKER COLORING BOOK

The Sneaker Coloring Book for grown-ups invites you to reimagine the 100 most popular sneaker designs from 1916 to the present by 18 major brands, including Adidas, Converse, New Balance, Nike, Onitsuka Tiger, Puma, Reebok, and Vans. Each full-page silhouette is removable for framing, and a fascinating introduction traces the history of the “sport shoe” from Charles Goodyear’s 1840s invention of vulcanization to its pivotal role in skate and hip-hop culture.

The Sneaker Coloring Book is the work of Daniel Jarosch and Henrik Klingel of Berlin-based design studio PKNTS.

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Bookbinders: 1961 Documentary Romanticizes Book Craftsmanship

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Earlier this week, we took a detour from our intense interest in the evolution of publishing and instead examined its past with a fascinating 1947 documentary on making books. Today, we’re back with some excellent companion viewing: The 1961 documentary Bookbinders, part of the America at Work series by the AFL-CIO, which frames the book production process with enough romanticism to make today’s most notorious “better-nevers” nod along like the bobblehead dogs on the dashboard of a New York cabbie.

Americans at work, in an art that is the preservation of all arts: The making of books. These men are masters of their tools, from the most primitive instruments to the latest equipments of the machine age. With other craftsmen, these are the people who make the pen mightier than the sword.”

For a richer celebration of this vanishing craft, we highly recommend Lark’s 500 Handmade Books: Inspiring Interpretations of a Timeless Form.

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