Brain Pickings

Walt Disney’s Man In Space: Retrofuturism from 1955

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Before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Walt Disney took audiences there. Man In Space is a fascinating and rare 1955 Disney program exploring humanity’s obsession with the cosmos with equal parts scientific futurism and historical investigation. The entire segment is now available on YouTube in four parts, gathered here in a convenient playlist for your retrofuturist bemusement.

From prehistoric rockets to the science of the moon to space medicine, each segment explores a different aspect of man’s last frontier of conquest. The series culminates with a vision for launching man’s first foray into space, a purely hypothetical and, for many, unimaginable proposition at the time. The cherry on top: The segments is narrated by Dick Tufeld, the voice of the robot from cult vintage TV series (and subsequent 1998 film adaptation) Lost in Space.

Man In Space appears on the excellent Walt Disney Treasures – Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond — a priceless two-disc collection of the “science factual” Disney programming that aired in the 1950s, covering multiple facets of the pre-modern fascination with outer space.

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Rare Photos of Jazz Icons by Herman Leonard

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Last winter, The Jazz Loft Project was one of readers’ favorites — a rare and fascinating look at the secret life of a New York loft, where some of the most iconic jazz musicians of the 1950s came to play at night. This season brings us a greater treasure still: Jazz — a humbly titled yet absolutely amazing retrospective of the work of legendary photographer Herman Leonard, who passed away a few weeks before the book was published. Leonard had been photographing jazz musicians since the 1950s and developed close friendships with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, which gave him unique access to these innovators and their larger worlds beyond the stage. The book reveals a rare glimpse of the underbelly of a cultural revolution through stunning, luminous never-before-seen images of icons like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and more.

Frank Sinatra

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Louis Armstrong, Paris, 1960

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard via NPR

Billie Holiday, New York, 1955

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard via NPR

Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, 1949

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard via NPR

From backstage parties to afterhours sessions to private get-togethers in musicians’ apartments, Jazz is both a bittersweet remembrance of one of the greatest entertainment photographers in history and a remarkable record of an era whose legacy shaped everything from music to pop culture for decades to come.


Percy Heath, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan, Newport Jazz Festival, 1955

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard via NPR

Dizzy Gillespie, San Francisco, 1990

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard via NPR

Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, NYC, New York, 1948

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Frank Sinatra

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Charlie Parker

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Lena Horne

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Doc Cheatham

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Ella Fitzgerald

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Duke Ellington

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

Alongside the images is a fascinating essay contextualizing the stories behind the photographs, as well as an interview with Leonard pulling the curtain on his signature techniques and unique creative vision.

With its vibrant, exhilarating record of live performances and its intimate portraits of musicians’ off-stage personas, Jazz is a priceless timecapsule of the glory days of “the sound of surprise,” a cultural icon in its own right.

via NPR

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2010’s Best Long Reads: Science & Technology

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year. Earlier, we featured the best of Business and Art, Design, Film & Music. Our final spotlight shines on Science, Medicine & Technology.

FOR THE LOVE OF CULTURE

Google, Copyright and Our Future (Lawrence Lessig, The New Republic, Jan. 26, 2010)

Time to read: 26 minutes (6,454 words)

In the wake of the Google Books project—and the subsequent settlement with publishers — Lessig calls for a new approach that untangles copyright law and helps keep information accessible to all.

What are the rules that will govern culture for the next hundred years? Are we building an ecology of access that demands a lawyer at every turn of the page?”

For more on this complex and controversial subject, see our continuous coverage of remix culture.

SEARCH FOR A STRESS VACCINE

Under Pressure: The Search for a Stress Vaccine (Jonah Lehrer, Wired, July 28, 2010)

Time to read: 23 minutes (5,700 words)

Lehrer profiles Robert Sapolsky, a scientist researching ways to create a vaccine-like treatment to protect people against stress. (In early research he’s injected a modified herpes virus into rodents’ brains.)

Sometimes it’s not enough just to tell people, ‘Jeez, you should really learn to relax.’ If stress is half as bad for you as we currently think it is, then it’s time to stop treating the side effects. It’s time to go after stress itself.”

NEW DRUGS AND CLINICAL TRIALS

New Drugs Stir Debate on Rules of Clinical Trials (Amy Harmon, New York Times, Sept. 19, 2010)

Time to read: 17 minutes (4,173 words)

A heartbreaking story from Harmon’s “Target Cancer” series about two cousins with skin cancer enrolled in the same clinical trial — but only one of them received the powerful new drug.

At times beseeching and belligerent, Mr. McLaughlin argued his cousin’s case to get the new drug with anyone he could find at U.C.L.A. ‘Hey, put him on it, he needs it,’ he pleaded. And then: ‘Who the hell is making these decisions?'”

THE STATUS QUO OF ELECTRIC CARS

The Status Quo of Electric Cars: Better Batteries, Same Range (Gail E. Tverberg, The Oil Drum, May 19, 2010)

Time to read: 16 minutes (3,940 words)

The Chevy Volt is Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year, but Tverberg argues that, in many ways, we’re no better off with electric cars than we were a century ago.

Weight, comfort, speed and performance have eaten up any real progress. We don’t need better batteries, we need better cars.”

AUTISM’S FIRST CHILD

Autism’s First Child (John Donvan and Caren Zucker, The Atlantic, October 2010)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,165 words)

While there is quite a bit of attention on autism as it relates to children, what happens when they grow up? Donvan and Zucker track down Donald Gray Triplett, 77, the first person ever diagnosed with autism.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Donald’s life is that he grew up to be an avid traveler. He has been to Germany, Tunisia, Hungary, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, and Colombia—some 36 foreign countries and 28 U.S. states in all.”

THE GOLDEN BOY AND THE INVISIBLE ARMY

The Golden Boy and the Invisible Army (Thomas Lake, Atlanta Magazine, June 2010)

Time to read: 19 minutes (4,777 words)

Writer Thomas Lake puts the H1N1 virus in human terms with this story of John Behnken, a 27-year-old Atlanta man who seemed an unlikely target for swine flu.

Dr. Stauffenberg had done close to 1,600 autopsies, and this was the first time she had seen an otherwise healthy person die from the unaided influenza virus.”

SHOULD WE CLONE NEANDERTHALS?

Should We Clone Neanderthals? (Zach Zorich, Archaeology, March/April 2010)

Time to read: 17 minutes (4,274 words)

An examination of the scientific, legal and ethical questions raised by the possibility that scientists may one day be able to clone neanderthals. At least one paleoanthropologist predicts: It’s going to happen.

If your experiment succeeds and you generate a Neanderthal who talks, you have violated every ethical rule we have, and if your experiment fails…well. It’s a lose-lose.”

THE PEANUT SOLUTION

The Peanut Solution (Andrew Rice, New York Times, Sept. 2, 2010)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,258 words)

A peanut-buttery paste called Plumpy’nut is praised for its potential to help end malnutrition across the globe. Patents, intellectual property and competing interests make distribution more complicated.

I wouldn’t want to see a new world order where poor people are dependent on packaged supplementary foods that are manufactured in Europe or the United States.”

SHOOTING FOR THE SUN

Shooting for the Sun (Logan Ward, The Atlantic, November 2010)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,149 words)

The story of Lonnie Johnson, an inventor with some 100 patents who is best-known for creating the Super Soaker squirt gun. His latest obsession: Bringing affordable solar power to the world.

Johnson is a member of what seems to be a vanishing breed: the self-invented inventor.”

THE PLASTIC PANIC

The Plastic Panic (Jerome Groopman, The New Yorker, May 31, 2010)

Time to read: 19 minutes (4,788 words)

Is the BPA found in plastic bottles actually harmful to us? And if so, why isn’t it banned in the United States? A look at the regulatory issues that keep potentially toxic chemicals in the marketplace.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, passed in 1976, does not require manufacturers to show that chemicals used in their products are safe before they go on the market.”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

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Christina Tsevis Illustrates the Best of Brain Pickings

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This year, we asked some of our favorite visualization artists to each capture the 10 most popular Brain Pickings articles of 2010 in a single piece of artwork, and we’re revealing them one by one this month. After Stefanie Posavec, Sam Potts and Tiffany Farrant, we continue with one of our favorite artists — Greek illustrator Christina Tsevis, whom we interviewed last year and whose enchanted Alice in Wonderland work we featured earlier this year.

The articles, in order of popularity:

  1. Mythical Beasts & Modern Monsters — three humorous takes on the relational understanding of the monsters ecosystem.
  2. Mapping European Stereotypes — a Bulgarian designer based in London pokes fun at Europeans’ xeno-bias and the subjective reality of nationalism.
  3. 7 Image Search Tools That Will Change Your Life — 7 visually-driven image search interfaces that change how we look for, find and catalog images.
  4. 7 Must-Read Books by TED Global Speakers — selection of the 7 most compelling books by speakers at this year’s TED Global in Oxford.
  5. How Do I Explain It To My Parents — Dutch abstract artists sit down with their parents and try to explain to them what they do, to a delightfully amusing effect.
  6. Vintage Posters for Modern Movies — a look at the faux-vintage design trend as it applies to film poster design, spotlighting the work of seven contemporary designers with a retrostalgic aesthetic.
  7. How To Be Alone — a poetic manifesto for the art of solitude.
  8. Strange Worlds: Miniature Condiment Landscapes — remarkable miniature landscapes made out of spices and condiments by artist Matthew Albanese.
  9. What Does It Mean To Be Human? — three disciplines (evolutionary biology, philosophy and neuroscience) tackle the grand question of existentialism.
  10. Literary Action Figures — you know you want them.

Christina unleashes her signature textured whimsy in this absolutely beautiful illustration incorporating visual elements from each of the top ten stories:

[Click image to enlarge]

See more of Christina’s wonderful work here and follow her on Twitter.

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