Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

15 APRIL, 2011

5 (More) Children’s Books for Grown-Ups

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What escaping boredom has to do with altruism theory and the Egyptian revolution.

Last year, we featured five of our favorite children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups, which became one of our most-shared and -discussed pieces of all time. Today, based on reader suggestions, we’re back with five more.

THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO

Between 1881 and 1883, Italian author Carlo Lorenzini, who eventually became known as Carlo Collodi, wrote a short tale that went on to become a household name and one of the world’s greatest children’s classics. The Adventures of Pinocchio (Le Avventure Di Pinocchio) is the story of a woodcarver named Geppetto in a small Italian village and the wooden puppet he created, who dreams of becoming a real boy and whose nose magically grows every time he tells a lie to construct his own reality. Full of archetypal patterns, Pinocchio captures complex themes of conscience, heroism, peer pressure, patriotism and the search for identity in a beautifully simple narrative. We recommend this particular bilingual edition by Biblioteca Italiana, featuring the complete text in Italian and English, with the original black-and-white illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti.

Fancy the happiness of Pinocchio on finding himself free! Without saying yes or no, he fled from the city and set out on the road that was to take him back to the house of the lovely Fairy.”

Pinocchio is also about the tender underbelly of Italian culture and national character, brimming with sociocultural innuendo. As Giuseppe Prezzolini famously remarked in 1923, “Pinocchio is the testing ground for foreigners; whoever understands the beauty of Pinocchio, understands Italy.”

Thanks, Phil

MATILDA

Originally published in 1988 and illustrated by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl‘s Matilda is often seen as a formative foundation for the millennial generation. With its story of an extraordinary child whose ordinary and disagreeable parents dismiss their daughter’s prodigious talent, its central theme echoes millennials’ self-perceived status as a misunderstood social actors with underappreciated talent. More importantly, however, the theme of violence and the abuse of authority — a recurring theme is Dahl’s novels — is a particularly timely one in the sociocultural context of today’s political unrest around the world, from the Middle Eastern revolutions to civic protests across Europe.

“I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Thanks, Toby

THE GIVING TREE

Beautifully written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein in 1964, The Giving Tree is one of the most beloved yet controversial children’s books of all time. The duality of its interpretations — one seeing it as the poetic story of unconditional love between a boy and his tree, and the other as the darkly faithless portrait of a selfish boy who keeps on taking from a tree that keeps on giving — illustrates some of the longest-running debates of moral philosophy: Is there such a thing as true altruism, and are human beings innately kind and selfless or innately unscrupulous and selfish? (We choose to side — and live — with the former.)

But I have nothing left to give you. My apples are gone.’ ‘My teeth are too weak for apples,’ said the boy. ‘My branches are gone,’ said the tree. ‘You cannot swing on them.’ ‘I am too old to swing on branches,’ said the boy. ‘My trunk is gone,’ said the tree. ‘You cannot climb.’ ‘I am too tired to climb,’ said the boy. ‘I am sorry,’ sighed the tree. ‘I wish that I could give you something, but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump.’ ‘I don’t need very much now,’ said the boy. ‘just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.’ ‘Well,’ said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, ‘well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.’ And the boy did. And the tree was happy.”

The book is also available in an original Hebrew edition, also with Silverstein’s lovely original illustration.

Thanks, Alyssa

AN AWESOME BOOK OF THANKS!

LA-based artist and writer Dallas Clayton‘s An Awesome Book of Thanks!, a follow-up to his 2008 gem An Awesome Book!, was one of our best children’s books of 2010. It’s also timeless in both its message and the visual whimsy of its execution. A lovely homage to the art of gratitude, it’s written in a style that would make a Dr. Seuss lover swoon and illustrated with the kind of colorful whimsy that tickles your eternal inner kid awake. In a culture brimming with cynicism and entitlement, this is an absolutely delightful reminder to savor the amazing world we live in and, above all, the blessing of each other’s presence.

and thanks for the trees
and thanks for the trains
and for the breeze and for the rain
and thank you thank you ocean deep
and desert dry
and mountain steep
and balls to kick and kites to fly
and places to go when you want to cry

THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH

When Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth in 1961, it was declared an instant classic and went on to be translated in multiple languages and compared to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It tells the story of a bored little boy who one day receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to a fantasy land called The Kingdom of Wisdom. Though at first he gets lost in the Doldrums, a grey place where thinking and laughing are not allowed, he goes on to incredible adventures before returning to his own room as magically as he had left it. But when he tries to revisit the Kingdom of Wisdom, he finds the magic tollbooth gone and in its place a note that reads, “For Milo, who knows the way.”

Besides the central theme of escaping boredom and intellectual stagnation through the pursuit of one’s own curiosity — a key founding philosophy here at Brain Pickings — the book is also about the importance of education, something we’ve grown increasingly concerned with and inspired by.

What you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow.”

Thanks, Jeremy

Missed the first part? Catch right on up.

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13 APRIL, 2011

A Rare Look at Antarctica, 1911-1914

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In the summer of 1911, a group of Australian scientists, adventurers and explorers set out to make history by undertaking the first Australian expedition to Antarctica, a three-year journey into the frozen unknown. Under the leadership of Dr. Douglas Mawson, they set sail for Macquarie Island and the virgin parts of Antarctica. Today, we look at what they encountered and recorded on the way not merely as a rare and fascinating glimpse of long-gone world frozen in time, but also as the source of important information that made a major contribution to how contemporary science understands the region and laid the groundwork for claims that in 1936 were formalized as the Australian Antarctic Territory.

These images come from James Francis (Frank) Hurley, the official photographer to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, and other members of the expedition who compensated for their lack of photographic acumen with sheer enthusiasm and visceral curiosity about the novel landscape that unfolded before their eyes.

Huskies pulling sledge / Format: Silver gelatin photoprint

Harold Hamilton with skeleton of sea-elephant / Format: Silver gelatin photonegative

Blizzard, the pup in Antarctica / Photograph by Frank Hurley /Format: Silver gelatin negative

Ice cased Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison / Photograph by Frank Hurley / Format: Glass negative

Hamilton hand-netting for macro-plankton from Aurora / Photograph by Frank Hurley / Format: Silver gelatin photoprint

Wreck of the 'Gratitude', Macquarie Island, 1911 / Format: Silver gelatin photoprint

King penguins, Antarctica, 1911-1914 / Photograph by Frank Hurley

Ice mask, C.T. Madigan, between 1911-1914 / Photograph by Frank Hurley / Format: Glass negative

Wild & Watson in sleeping bag tent on sledge journey

Shags defending nest, Macquarie Island / Photograph by Harold Hamilton

Arthur Sawyer with sea elephant pup / Format: Silver gelatin photonegative

Perhaps most fascinating — in a bittersweet kind of way — is the duality of human progress found in the stark contrast between these images and contemporary iterations of them: At once a living hallmark of the remarkable advances in photographic technology and a gripping reminder of how quickly we’re losing this precious ecosystem.

For a closer look at this fascinating and tender world, you won’t go wrong with Sara Wheeler’s classic, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica.

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31 MARCH, 2011

A Rare Archive: The Lost Beatles Photographs

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Last year, we swooned over Nowhere Boy, the lovely documentary about John Lennon’s little-known early life. This month, rock historian Larry Marion furthers our obsession with knowing the unknown Beatles in The Lost Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive, 1964-1966 — a rare and revealing look at the iconic band through a series of intimate, never-before-seen photographs taken during The Beatles’ three U.S. tours.

The photos were taken by The Fab Four’s tour manager, Bob Bonis, who carried his Leica M3 camera everywhere, capturing pockets of wonderfully candid private moments tucked beneath the band’s overscheduled, overexposed public selves.

In 1964, The Beatles boarded their charter jet at Seattle-Tacoma airport, heading to Vancouver for their first-ever Canadian concert, and the fourth in their first American tour, at the Empire Stadium on August 22.

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

George Harrison and Ringo Starr get ready to go onstage in Detroit on August 13, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

George Harrison and John Lennon at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, August 21, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

George Harrison tunes up backstage at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium on August 16, 1966, in what was the first concert to ever be held at the now-iconic venue

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

Ringo plays with a toy gun -- allegedly a gift from Elvis Presley -- during The Beatles' stay at British actor Reginald Owen's Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles while on their 1964 U.S. tour

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

While on stage at Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium on August 12, 1965, George Harrison turns around to face Bonis and gives him a warm thumbs-up

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

The Beatles begin the last tour they'd ever go on in Detroit, August 13, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

John Lennon in Portland, Oregon, on August 22, 1965

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

After the Vancouver shows, The Beatles flew to Los Angeles, only to find their reservation cancelled when the Ambassador Hotel was overrun by Beatlemaniacs. British actor Reginald Owen stepped in, offering them his Bel Air mansion for $1,000

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. / NotFadeAwayGallery.com

Bonis, a man of honor and loyalty, felt wrong about capitalizing on his unprecedented access, so for 40 years his photos remained a rare treat for his friends and family only. He passed away in 1992, and almost two decades later, his son Alex decided it was time to share his father’s collection with the thousands of Beatles fans around the world in The Lost Beatles Photographs. We’re glad he did.

via NPR

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28 MARCH, 2011

Wheels of Change: How The Bicycle Empowered Women

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A visual history of the steed upon which women rode into a new world.

As much as I love bike culture and everything bikes stand for, I, like many, may have underestimated the profound significance of the bicycle as a cultural agent of change. Thanks to a brilliant new book, I no longer do. National Geographic‘s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) (public library) tells the riveting story of how the two-wheel wonder pedaled forward the emancipation of women in late-nineteenth-century America and radically redefined the normative conventions of femininity.

To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.” ~ Munsey’s Magazine, 1896

Image: Colorado Historical Society (Cycling West, Vol. 6 April 15, 1897, Scan #30000557) | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

A follow-up to Sue Macy’s excellent Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports, published nearly 15 years ago, the book weaves together fascinating research, rare archival images, and historical quotes that bespeak the era’s near-comic fear of the cycling revolution. (“The bicycle is the devil’s advance agent morally and physically in thousands of instances.”)

Image: History Colorado (Lillybridge Collection, Scan #20000294 | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

From allowing young people to socialize without the chaperoning of clergymen and other merchants of morality to finally liberating women from the constraints of corsets and giant skirts (the “rational dress” pioneered by bike-riding women cut the weight of their undergarments to a “mere” 7 pounds), the velocipede made possible previously unthinkable actions and interactions that we now for granted to the point of forgetting the turbulence they once incited.

Image: (c) Beth Emery Collection | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

“Success in life depends as much upon a vigorous and healthy body as upon a clear and active mind.” ~ Elsa von Blumen, American racer, 1881

Image: (c) Hulton Archive/Getty Images | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Image: (c) Norman Batho Collection | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

Many [female cyclists on cigar box labels] were shown as decidedly masculine, with hair cut short or pulled back, and smoking cigars, then an almost exclusively male pursuit. This portrayal reflected the old fears that women in pants would somehow supplement men as breadwinners and decision-makers.” ~ Sue Macy

Poignant and playful, Wheels of Change explores the early history of women in bicycling with equal parts illuminating insight and freewheeling fun.

via Sarah Goodyear / Grist

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