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In celebration of the recently published biography, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life by Joel Williamson, I thought I would share some memories of Christmas past. In the 1970s we listened to Elvis on vinyl. Every December when it was time to decorate the tree you could hear the deep dulcet warbling of Elvis coming from the hi-fi. Some of my favorite Elvis renditions of Christmas songs follow.
With the tree up and ready to be decorated we’d pop on the Elvis to kick off the Christmas season with “The First Noel”.
In the kitchen we’d often hear my mother sing along to “Winter Wonderland” as she made stained-glass window cookies to hang on the tree.
One of my dad’s favorites was “Silver Bells”. He’d sing along so that it sounded like Elvis was his backup singer.
My best friend Tracy had an artificial, all-white tree bedecked in tinsel and lit solely with blue lights. In the evenings we’d just sit in her living room watching the tree as she and Elvis sang “Blue Christmas”.
Now that I am older, I still like to listen to Elvis when I decorate for Christmas. Then when I have everything just the way I want I like to get a crackling fire going, turn down the lights, plug in the tree, toss back a few slugs of egg nog, settle into a comfy couch with someone special, and listen to Elvis’s “Merry Christmas Baby”.
Here’s hoping your stocking is stuffed with Elvis this season. I find he makes the holiday merry.
Headline image credit: Elvis! Photo by Kevin Dooley. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
The Iridescence of
Birds: a book about Henri Matisse
By Patricia MacLachlan; Pictures by Hadley Hooper
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press. 2014
To write this review,
I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.
The Iridescence of
Birds is an informational picture book biography that is breathtaking from cover to cover. Author
A lot is made of the romance of bookstores. The smell of paper! The joy of discovery! The ancient, cracking leather bindings of books with dated inscriptions! And it's true that bookstores are magical places to browse and linger — just maybe not in the two days before Christmas. Because in the swirling mad hum [...]
The disease that carried Mozart off 224 years ago today was as sudden as it was mysterious. It struck during a year in which he was uncommonly healthy and also spectacularly productive. Only its essential elements are known, the most striking of which was progressive swelling (i.e., edema) of the entire body, ultimately so profound that a few days before Mozart died he was unable to make the smallest movement and had to be fitted with a gown that opened at the back to facilitate changing. By then, according to his son, Carl Thomas, he also had a stench so awful (likely due to retained urinary waste products), that “an autopsy was rendered impossible.” Although Mozart was the disorder’s most notable victim, he was by no means its only one. According to Dr. Eduard Vincent Guldener von Lobes, one of several consulting physicians: “A great number of inhabitants of Vienna were at this time laboring under the same complaint, and the number of cases which terminated fatally, like that of Mozart’s, was considerable. I saw the body after death, and it exhibited no appearances beyond those usual in such cases.” Von Lobes’ statement was recently confirmed by Zeger, Weigl and Steptoe, who found a marked increase in “deaths from edema among young men” recorded in Vienna’s official daily register in the weeks surrounding Mozart’s death compared with previous and following years.
Although over 100 different diagnoses have been proposed as the cause of Mozart’s fatal illness, none fits its character, course, and epidemiological characteristics better than acute glomerulonephritis – acute inflammation of the microscopic filters of the kidneys (the glomeruli) induced by a preceding streptococcal infection. Mozart, in fact, was no stranger to streptococcal infections and their complications. He had a series of severe illnesses as a child, which were almost certainly recurrent episodes of strep throat and streptococcus-induced acute rheumatic fever. Therefore, if his final, fatal illness was acute, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, it would have been just one of many times his life could have been cut short by an encounter with streptococci. However, unlike acute rheumatic fever, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis is typically a benign disorder of young children, which virtually always resolves fully in a matter of weeks. How then, could acute, post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis explain not just Mozart’s death, but also those of the many other young Viennese men who died of “edema” during the winter of 1791/2?
The answer lies with the particular species of streptococcus responsible for the cases of acute glomerulonephritis. Streptococcus pyogenes is the species of streptococcus responsible for the vast majority of acute post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (also “strep throat’ and rheumatic fever) – those benign cases, involving children who recover completely after relatively brief illnesses. There is, however, another rarer form of post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, a much severer form, which attacks and sometimes kills adults. It’s caused by a different species of streptococcus, Streptococcus equi, the agent responsible for “strangles,” a highly contagious infection of horses. The bacterium also attacks cows, and in rare instances in which humans are infected, consumption of milk or milk products from S. equi-infected cows is responsible. The infection produces an illness typical of acute glomerulonephritis, in which over 90% of the victims are adults. One in 50 dies, even with the best care available today. One in 20 requires renal dialysis to recover, which, of course, was not available in Mozart’s day.
In the final analysis, of the myriad diagnoses proposed to date, only an epidemic of acute post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis caused by milk or cheese contaminated with S. equi, explains both the clinical and the epidemiological features of Mozart’s fatal illness.
Headline image credit: Mozart family portrait, circa 1780. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
At Powell's, we feel the holidays are the perfect time to share our love of books with those close to us. For this special blog series, we reached out to authors featured in our Holiday Gift Guide to learn about their own experiences with book giving during this bountiful time of year. Today's featured giver [...]
I’d email first drafts of my chapters for “Strong Inside” to my mom and dad, and I soon discovered why the messages I’d get back only contained suggestions from my mother: my father understood from the very beginning that I’d feel a whole lot better about my book if I knew I did it without major input from him.
Which isn’t to say that he had no influence. His fingerprints are all over it, but more in the sense of lifelong lessons on reporting and writing: avoid clichés and unnecessary words; find the universal in the particular; do the reporting.
Growing up, the people who came to visit our house for dinner or picnics were mostly journalists—I’d sit around on the periphery of the conversations and listen to the joy everyone took in describing great lead paragraphs, or scooping the competition. (I also remember the time Bob Woodward brought my sister and I some 45-RPM records, including “Safety Dance,” and the time Sarah and I tried to trick John Feinstein into eating a dog biscuit). Growing up in the home of a Washington Post journalist meant reading a great newspaper every morning—and reading great writing is the best way to learn to write. (Another childhood memory: Each morning, I’d spread the Post out on the dining room table, read the sports section first, and our family sheepdog, Maggie, would hop up on the table, park her body on top of the rest of the paper, and then lap up the milk from my cereal bowl when I was nearly done. Wow.)
Feeling as through your creativity well is running a little dry? With The Write-Brain Workbook and Take 10 for Writers, you’ll get the words flowing again in no time! Over 1,000 combined exercises help you get into the habit of writing—and enjoy it! You’ll learn how to celebrate your own writing accomplishments; discover your own unique writing process; build momentum in your writing and overcome writer’s block. Regardless of genre, you’ll unleash your own writing passion with this Creative Writing Collection.
My father did not become a published author until after I graduated from college, but one of the lessons I’ve picked up from him in this later stage of his writing career is the concept of “go there.” For him, that meant traveling to Vietnam for one book, moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the winter for another, and flying to Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas for his bio of Barack Obama.
In my case, going there meant two things: seeing my adopted hometown of Nashville through the eyes of my subject, Perry Wallace, and trying to travel back in time to the 1960s in as many ways as possible. On the time-travel side, I set my satellite radio to the 1960s channel and spent my 45-minute commutes to my “day job” listening to the songs Wallace and his contemporaries would have heard while he was making history as the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. I watched movies from the period, and read books about the Sixties that had nothing to do with Wallace’s story but shed light on the culture of the times in interesting ways (in addition to my dad’s many books that are set in the decade, one of my favorites was Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution, on the five movies nominated for Oscars in 1967).
It was seeing Nashville through Perry Wallace’s eyes that produced the most valuable anecdotes for the book. I’ll forever remember the afternoon we spent driving around the town he left 44 years ago. He showed me the houses he grew up in, the parks he played in, the schools he attended. Driving past one house, he saw an old friend sitting on the front porch and jumped out of the car to say hello. Driving past a street corner in a now-fashionable part of town, he explained that in 1955, standing on that same corner, he had been stunned by a carload of white teenagers who pointed a gun out their window at him, pointing it, pointing it, pointing it, as the car slowly made its way around the corner. And as we drove past a baseball field, he asked me to stop the car. We got out, and he pointed to a thicket of rocks and trees behind the outfield fence. “See that rock?” he asked. “That’s where I sat and meditated over my decision whether to go to Vanderbilt.”
Suddenly I was standing next to Perry Wallace in the present, but also sitting next to him on that rock in 1966.
At Powell's, we feel the holidays are the perfect time to share our love of books with those close to us. For this special blog series, we reached out to authors featured in our Holiday Gift Guide to learn about their own experiences with book giving during this bountiful time of year. Today's featured giver [...]
Title: Spic-And-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen Written by: Monica Kulling Illustrated by: David Parkins Published by: Tundra Books, 2014 Themes/Topics: women industrial engineers, inventor, psychologist, Lilian Moller Gilbreth Suitable for ages: 7-11 Biography, 32 pages Series: Great Idea Series Opening: The first page is a beautiful … Continue reading →
The Man Who Invented Christmas. Les Standiford. 2008. Crown. 241 pages. [Source: Library]
Different readers will have different expectations when they see the full title of this one: The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.
The focus is not so much on Christmas, as it is on Charles Dickens: his private and public life, his writing career, his inspirations, his fears and worries, his relationship with his publishers. The focus isn't solely on A Christmas Carol. Yes, this work gets discussed in detail. But the same can be said of many of Dickens' novels. The book, despite the title, focuses on Dickens' career as a writer or novelist. This book mentions and in some cases discusses most of Dickens' published works. Not just his books published BEFORE A Christmas Carol, but his whole career.
A Christmas Carol gets special treatment in this one, perhaps, not because it has a Christmas theme, but, because it is a significant to his career. Before A Christmas Carol, he'd had a few really big bestsellers. But. He'd also experienced some failures. His last three books were disappointing to his fans. They didn't sell as well. The critics didn't like them. His publishers were discouraged and worried. Dickens needed his next book to be something wonderful, something that would sell, something that would be loved by one and all. He needed a success: a feel-good success, something to give him confidence and something to give his publishers confidence in him again, and a financial success, something to get him out of debt, something to pay his bills.
The secondary focus of this one is not Christmas. Readers might expect it to be related to Christmas, the history of Christmas, its invention, or reinvention. But. Something gets more time and attention than Christmas. And that is the writing and/or publishing industry. The book gives readers a history lesson in publishing. How books were written, illustrated, printed, published, sold. Not just what went on BEFORE it was published, but also what typically happened next. How novels were adapted to the stage by others, by many others. How little control--if any--that the publisher and author had over their books, their stories, their characters and plots. Plays could do justice, at times, to the books they were based upon. But they could also be absolutely dreadful. The lack of copyright laws or international copyright laws. How publishers in other countries could steal entire books, republish them, not paying the author anything at all. The book even has a chapter or two on fan fiction. Not that he calls it fan fiction. But he writes of how other writers could "borrow" characters and give them further adventures and publish them.
Does the book talk about Christmas at all? Yes. It does. It tells of two extremes: those in the past who celebrated Christmas too wildly, too wantonly, and those in the past who refused to celebrate it all, who would have it be illegal. Either extreme seems a bit hard to believe, perhaps, for modern readers. The book tells of traditions. Some traditions being somewhat established before A Christmas Carol, and other traditions becoming more established by being described in A Christmas Carol. What I probably found most interesting was his mention of how traditionally it was goose served for the Christmas feast UNTIL the publishing of A Christmas Carol. When Scrooge buys a turkey to give to Bob Cratchit and his family, it seems he inspired his readers to change their traditions. Turkeys becoming more and more popular.
For readers interested in the life and death of Charles Dickens, his whole career, this one has some appeal. It provides plenty of details about his books and the publishing industry, how he was received by the public.
For readers looking for a quick, feel-good holiday read, this one may prove to be a chore to get through.
I liked it well enough. I've read a good many of his novels. I have some interest in his life. It worked for me. It was packed with plenty of information.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is an engaging picture book biography that will inspire young readers to ask "why" and "how" as they wonder about the universe. Stephanie
An iconic figure of 20th century science and culture, Ivan Pavlov is best known as a founding figure of behaviorism who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell and offered a scientific approach to psychology that ignored the “subjective” world of the psyche itself.
While researching Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science, I discovered that these and other elements of the common images of Pavlov are incorrect. The following 22 facts and observations are a small window onto the life of a man whose work, life and values were much more complex and interesting than the iconic figure with whom we are so familiar.
Pavlov didn’t use a bell, and for his real scientific purposes, couldn’t. English-speakers think he did because of a mistranslation of the Russian word for zvonok (buzzer) and because the behaviorists interpreted Pavlov in their own image for people in the U.S. and much of the West.
He didn’t use the term and concept “conditioned reflex,” either – rather, “conditional,” and it makes a big difference. For him, the conditional reflex was not just a phenomenon, but a tool for exploring the animal and human psyche – “our consciousness and its torments.”
Unlike the behaviorists, Pavlov believed that dogs (like people) had identifiable personalities, emotions, and thoughts that scientific psychology should address. “Essentially, only one thing in life is of real interest to us,” he declared: “our psychical experience.”
As a youth, he identified worriedly with Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov – fearing that his devotion to rationality might strip him of human morality and feelings – but also believed that science (especially physiology) might teach humans to be more reasonable and humane.
Although one would expect that this investigator of reflexive reactions would think otherwise, he believed in free will.
Pavlov was from a religious family and trained for the priesthood, but left seminary for science studies at St. Petersburg University. He pondered the relationship of science, religion, morality, and the human quest for certainty throughout his life. Although an atheist, he appreciated religion’s cultural value, protested its repression under the Bolsheviks, and supported financially the local church near his lab at Koltushi. (His wife was deeply religious and their apartment was full of icons.)
Pavlov’s beloved mentor in college was fired as a result of student demonstrations against him as a Jew, a political conservative, and (most importantly) a hard grader. This was a great blow to Pavlov and left him on his own as he attempted to make a career.
He first got a “real job” at age 41 – as a professor of pharmacology.
He didn’t win his Nobel Prize (1904) for research on conditional reflexes, but rather for his studies of digestive physiology.
He more than doubled the budget for his labs by bottling the gastric juice he drew from lab dogs and selling it as a remedy for dyspepsia. (A big hit, not just in Russia, but in France and Germany as well.
Like Darwin, Pavlov believed that dogs had full-fledged thoughts, emotions and personalities. His lab dogs were given names that captured their personalities and were routinely described in lab notebooks as heroic or cowardly, smart or obtuse, weak or strong, good or bad workers, etc. Pavlov constantly interpreted his own biography and personality in terms of his experiments on dogs (and interpreted dogs according to what he thought he knew about himself and other people).
He was famous for his explosive temper –“spontaneous morbid paroxysms,” as he put it. Students and coworkers all had their favorite stories about these vintage explosions. Afterwards, he would make his apologies and get on with his work.
Pavlov was an art collector – with a massive collection of Russian realist art in his apartment. His best friends before 1917 were artists.
To maintain a “balanced” organism, Pavlov spent three months every year at a dacha (summer home) where he avoided science entirely. A devotee of physical exercise, he spent these months gardening, bicycling, and playing gorodki (a Russian sport in which the players throw heavy wooden bats at formations of other heavy bats, trying to knock them down in as few throws as possible; Pavlov was a champion player even in his old age).
He seriously contemplated leaving Russia after the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but finally decided to stay. His Western colleagues helped him financially during the hungry years of civil war (1918 – 1921), but did not offer to support him as a scientist in the West: they thought that, at age 68, he was washed up – but the research on conditional reflexes that would make him an international icon continued full blast for another two decades.
He corresponded with Communist leaders Nikolai Bukharin and Vyacheslav Molotov and was one of very few public critics of the Bolsheviks’ political repression, persecution of religion, and terror in the 1930s. He also praised the state for its great support of science and highly respected some of his Communist coworkers, who succeeded in changing his opinion about some important scientific issues.
Publically always very confident, privately he suffered constantly from what he called his “Beast of Doubt” – his fear that the psyche would never yield its secrets to his research.
Pavlov’s closest scientific collaborator for the last 20+ years of his life, Maria Petrova, was also his lover.
During a trip to the U. S. in 1923 he was mugged and robbed of all his money in Grand Central Station, and wanted to go home “where it is safe,” but was convinced to stay and had a great visit.
When the Communist state sent a political militant to purge his lab of political undesirables, Pavlov literally kicked him down the stairs and out of the building.
When he died, Pavlov was working on two surprising manuscripts that he never completed: one on the relationship of science, Christianity, Communism, and the human search for morality and certainty; the other making an important change in his doctrine of conditional reflexes.
According to Pavlov, the most terrible, frightening thing in life was uncertainty, unforeseen accidents (sluchainosti), against which people could turn to religion or – his choice – science.
How many of the above facts did you already know about the life of Ivan Pavlov?
Featured image: Pavlov, center, operates on a dog to create an isolated stomach or implant a permanent fistula. After the dog recovered, experiments began on an intact and relatively normal animal, which was a central feature of Pavlov’s scientific style. Courtesy of Wellcome Institute Library, London. Used with permission.
I grew up listening to my parents' Johnny Cash albums, and his Greatest Hits CD (The Essential Johnny Cash) is one of my go-to "setting up/cleaning up/putting to bed the classroom" sound tracks. I didn't know that much about his early life until I read this collection of poems.
Here is an excerpt from the final poem, "The Man in Black:"
"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash" is how he started every concert from then on. that simple statement said it all.
Johnny Cash, the poor country boy from the cotton fields, traveled the world many times over, where he sang for presidents and the homeless, businessmen and farmers, soldiers and prisoners alike. It didn't matter how famous he got, he never forgot what it felt like to be cold, miserable, and hungry. Momma didn't have to remind Johnny that his gift was special. He knew he was not its owner but its caretaker.
Here's Johnny Cash in 1958, singing "I Walk the Line." Check out that wink at about the 50 second mark! **swoon**
Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen
By Monica Kulling; Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books. 2014
To evaluate this title
for review, the publisher sent me a copy of the book.
Candian author, Kulling, adds a new title in Tundra’s Great
Idea series. Spic-And-Span! looks at the life of efficiency expert, industrial
Anthony Trollope’s autobiography is a classic study of the working life of one of English literature’s best-known writers. His strong opinions on working practices, contracts, deadlines, and earnings have divided opinion ever since. Below is an extract from Trollope’s An Autobiography and Other Writings, edited by Nicholas Shrimpton, in which he shares his views on literary criticism and the critics themselves.
Literary criticism in the present day has become a profession,—but it has ceased to be an art. Its object is no longer that of proving that certain literary work is good and other literary work is bad, in accordance with rules which the critic is able to define. English criticism at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this. It attempts, in the first place, to tell the public whether a book be or be not worth public attention; and, in the second place, so to describe the purport of the work as to enable those who have not time or inclination for reading it to feel that by a short cut they can become acquainted with its contents. Both these objects, if fairly well carried out, are salutary. Though the critic may not be a profound judge himself; though not unfrequently he be a young man making his first literary attempts, with tastes and judgment still unfixed, yet he probably has a conscience in the matter, and would not have been selected for that work had he not shown some aptitude for it. Though he may be not the best possible guide to the undiscerning, he will be better than no guide at all. Real substantial criticism must, from its nature, be costly, and that which the public wants should at any rate be cheap. Advice is given to many thousands, which, though it may not be the best advice possible, is better than no advice at all. Then that description of the work criticised, that compressing of the much into very little,—which is the work of many modern critics or reviewers,—does enable many to know something of what is being said, who without it would know nothing.
I do not think it is incumbent on me at present to name periodicals in which this work is well done, and to make complaints of others by which it is scamped. I should give offence, and might probably be unjust. But I think I may certainly say that as some of these periodicals are certainly entitled to great praise for the manner in which the work is done generally, so are others open to very severe censure,—and that the praise and that the censure are chiefly due on behalf of one virtue and its opposite vice. It is not critical ability that we have a right to demand, or its absence that we are bound to deplore. Critical ability for the price we pay is not attainable. It is a faculty not peculiar to Englishmen, and when displayed is very frequently not appreciated. But that critics should be honest we have a right to demand, and critical dishonesty we are bound to expose. If the writer will tell us what he thinks, though his thoughts be absolutely vague and useless, we can forgive him; but when he tells us what he does not think, actuated either by friendship or by animosity, then there should be no pardon for him. This is the sin in modern English criticism of which there is most reason to complain.
It is a lamentable fact that men and women lend themselves to this practice who are neither vindictive nor ordinarily dishonest. It has become ‘the custom of the trade,’ under the veil of which excuse so many tradesmen justify their malpractices! When a struggling author learns that so much has been done for A by the Barsetshire Gazette, so much for B by the Dillsborough Herald, and, again, so much for C by that powerful metropolitan organ the Evening Pulpit, and is told also that A and B and C have been favoured through personal interest, he also goes to work among the editors, or the editors’ wives,—or perhaps, if he cannot reach their wives, with their wives’ first or second cousins. When once the feeling has come upon an editor or a critic that he may allow himself to be influenced by other considerations than the duty he owes to the public, all sense of critical or of editorial honesty falls from him at once. Facilis descensus Averni. In a very short time that editorial honesty becomes ridiculous to himself. It is for other purpose that he wields the power; and when he is told what is his duty, and what should be his conduct, the preacher of such doctrine seems to him to be quixotic. ‘Where have you lived, my friend, for the last twenty years,’ he says in spirit, if not in word, ‘that you come out now with such stuff as old-fashioned as this?’ And thus dishonesty begets dishonesty, till dishonesty seems to be beautiful. How nice to be good-natured! How glorious to assist struggling young authors, especially if the young author be also a pretty woman! How gracious to oblige a friend! Then the motive, though still pleasing, departs further from the border of what is good. In what way can the critic better repay the hospitality of his wealthy literary friend than by good-natured criticism,—or more certainly ensure for himself a continuation of hospitable favours?
Some years since a critic of the day, a gentleman well known then in literary circles, showed me the manuscript of a book recently published,— the work of a popular author. It was handsomely bound, and was a valuable and desirable possession. It had just been given to him by the author as an acknowledgment for a laudatory review in one of the leading journals of the day. As I was expressly asked whether I did not regard such a token as a sign of grace both in the giver and in the receiver, I said that I thought it should neither have been given nor have been taken. My theory was repudiated with scorn, and I was told that I was strait-laced, visionary, and impracticable! In all that the damage did not lie in the fact of that one present, but in the feeling on the part of the critic that his office was not debased by the acceptance of presents from those whom he criticised. This man was a professional critic, bound by his contract with certain employers to review such books as were sent to him. How could he, when he had received a valuable present for praising one book, censure another by the same author?
While I write this I well know that what I say, if it be ever noticed at all, will be taken as a straining at gnats, as a pretence of honesty, or at any rate as an exaggeration of scruples. I have said the same thing before, and have been ridiculed for saying it. But none the less am I sure that English literature generally is suffering much under this evil. All those who are struggling for success have forced upon them the idea that their strongest efforts should be made in touting for praise. Those who are not familiar with the lives of authors will hardly believe how low will be the forms which their struggles will take:—how little presents will be sent to men who write little articles; how much flattery may be expended even on the keeper of a circulating library; with what profuse and distant genuflexions approaches are made to the outside railing of the temple which contains within it the great thunderer of some metropolitan periodical publication! The evil here is not only that done to the public when interested counsel is given to them, but extends to the debasement of those who have at any rate considered themselves fit to provide literature for the public.
Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer scientist, remembered for his revolutionary Automatic Computing Engine, on which the first personal computer was based, and his crucial role in breaking the ENIGMA code during the Second World War. He continues to be regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century.
We live in an age that Turing both predicted and defined. His life and achievements are starting to be celebrated in popular culture, largely with the help of the newly released film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke. We’re proud to publish some of Turing’s own work in mathematics, computing, and artificial intelligence, as well as numerous explorations of his life and work. Use our interactive Enigma Machine below to learn more about Turing’s extraordinary achievements.
Image credits: (1) Bletchley Park Bombe by Antoine Taveneaux. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Alan Turing Aged 16, Unknown Artist. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Good question by Garrett Coakley. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.
The fifth of November is not just an excuse to marvel at sparklers, fireworks, and effigies; it is part of a national tradition that is based on one of the most famous moments in British political history. The Gunpowder Plot itself was actually foiled on the night of Monday 4 November, 1605. However, throughout the following day, Londoners were asked to light bonfires in order to celebrate the failure of the assassination attempt on King James I of England. Henceforth, the fifth of November has become known as ‘Bonfire Night’ or even ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ – named after the most posthumously famous of the thirteen conspirators. Guy Fawkes became the symbol for the conspirators after being caught during the failed treason attempt. For centuries after 1605, boys creating a cloaked effigy – based on Guy Fawkes’ disguised appearance in the Vaults at the House of Lords – have been asking for “a penny for the Guy”.
Below is a timeline that describes the events leading up to the failed Gunpowder Plot and the execution of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. If you would like to learn more about Bonfire Night, you can explore the characters behind the Gunpowder Plot, the traditions associated with it, or simply learn how to throw the best Guy Fawkes Night party.
Feature image credit: Guy Fawkes, by Crispijn van de Passe der Ältere. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
When Eleanor Roosevelt died on this day (7 November) in 1962, she was widely regarded as “the greatest woman in the world.” Not only was she the longest-tenured First Lady of the United States, but also a teacher, author, journalist, diplomat, and talk-show host. She became a major participant in the intense debates over civil rights, economic justice, multiculturalism, and human rights that remain central to policymaking today. As her husband’s most visible surrogate and collaborator, she became the surviving partner who carried their progressive reform agenda deep into the post-war era, helping millions of needy Americans gain a foothold in the middle class, dismantling Jim Crow laws in the South, and transforming the United States from an isolationist into an internationalist power. In spite of her celebrity, or more likely because of it, she had to endure a prolonged period of intense suffering and humiliation before dying, due in large part to her end-of-life care.
Roosevelt’s terminal agonies began in April 1960 when at 75 years of age, she consulted her personal physician, David Gurewitsch, for increasing fatigue. On detecting mild anemia and an abnormal bone marrow, he diagnosed “aplastic anemia” and warned Roosevelt that transfusions could bring temporary relief, but sooner or later, her marrow would break down completely and internal hemorrhaging would result. Roosevelt responded simply that she was “too busy to be sick.”
For a variety of arcane reasons, Roosevelt’s hematological disorder would be given a different name today – myelodysplastic disorder – and most likely treated with a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, in 1962 there was no effective treatment for Roosevelt’s hematologic disorder, and over the ensuing two years, Gurewitsch’s grim prognosis proved correct. Though she entered Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City repeatedly for tests and treatments, her “aplastic anemia” progressively worsened. Premarin produced only vaginal bleeding necessitating dilatation and curettage, transfusions temporary relief of her fatigue, but at the expense of severe bouts of chills and fever. Repeated courses of prednisone produced only the complications of a weakened immune system. By September 1962, deathly pale, covered with bruises and passing tarry stools, Roosevelt begged Gurewitsch in vain to let her die. She began spitting out pills or hiding them under her tongue, refused further tests and demanded to go home. Eight days after leaving the hospital, the TB bacillus was cultured from her bone marrow.
Gurewitsch was elated. The new finding, he proclaimed, had increased Roosevelt’s chances of survival “by 5000%.” Roosevelt’s family, however, was unimpressed and insisted that their mother’s suffering had gone on long enough. Undeterred, Gurewitsch doubled the dose of TB medications, gave additional transfusions, and ordered tracheal suctioning and a urinary catheter inserted.
In spite of these measures, Roosevelt’s condition continued to deteriorate. Late in the afternoon of 7 November 1962 she ceased breathing. Attempts at closed chest resuscitation with mouth-to-mouth breathing and intra-cardiac adrenalin were unsuccessful.
Years later, when reflecting upon these events, Gurewitsch opined that: “He had not done well by [Roosevelt] toward the end. She had told him that if her illness flared up again and fatally that she did not want to linger on and expected him to save her from the protracted, helpless, dragging out of suffering. But he could not do it.” He said, “When the time came, his duty as a doctor prevented him.”
The ethical standards of morally optimal care for the dying we hold dear today had not yet been articulated when Roosevelt became ill and died. Most of them were violated (albeit unknowingly) by Roosevelt’s physicians in their desperate efforts to halt the progression of her hematological disorder: that of non-maleficence (i.e., avoiding harm); by pushing prednisone after it was having no apparent therapeutic effect; that of beneficence (i.e., limiting interventions to those that are beneficial); by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the absence of any reasonable prospect of a favorable outcome; and that of futility (avoiding futile interventions); by continuing transfusions, performing tracheal suctioning and (some might even argue) beginning anti-tuberculosis therapy after it was clear that Roosevelt’s condition was terminal.
Roosevelt’s physicians also unknowingly violated the principle of respect for persons, by ignoring her repeated pleas to discontinue treatment. However, physician-patient relationships were more paternalistic then, and in 1962 many, if not most, physicians likely would have done as Gurewitsch did, believing as he did that their “duty as doctors” compelled them to preserve life at all cost.
Current bioethical concepts and attitudes would dictate a different, presumably more humane, end-of-life care for Eleanor Roosevelt from that received under the direction of Dr. David Gurewitsch. While arguments can be made about whether any ethical principles are timeless, Gurewitsch’s own retrospective angst over his treatment of Roosevelt, coupled with ancient precedents proscribing futile and/or maleficent interventions, and an already growing awareness of the importance of respect for patients’ wishes in the early part of the 20th century, suggest that even by 1962 standards, Roosevelt’s end-of-life care was misguided. Nevertheless, in criticizing Gurewitsch for his failure “to save [Roosevelt] from the protracted, helpless, dragging out of suffering,” one has to wonder if and when a present-day personal physician of a patient as prominent as Roosevelt would have the fortitude to inform her that nothing more can be done to halt the progression of the disorder that is slowly carrying her to her grave. One wonders further if and when that same personal physician would have the fortitude to inform a deeply concerned public that no further treatment will be given, because in his professional opinion, his famous patient’s condition is terminal and further interventions will only prolong her suffering.
Evidence that recent changes in the bioethics of dying have had an impact on the end-of-life care of famous patients is mixed. Former President Richard Nixon and another famous former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, both had living wills and died peacefully after forgoing potentially life-prolonging interventions. The deaths of Nelson Mandela and Ariel Sharon were different. Though 95 years of age and clearly over-mastered by a severe lung infection as early as June 2013, Mandela was maintained on life support in a vegetative state for another six months before finally dying in December of that year. Sharon’s dying was even more protracted, thanks to the aggressive end-of-life care provided by Israeli physicians. After a massive hemorrhagic stroke destroyed his cognitive abilities in 2006, a series of surgeries and on-going medical care kept Sharon alive until renal failure finally ended his suffering in January 2014. Thus, although bioethical concepts and attitudes regarding end-of-life care have undergone radical changes since 1962, these contrasting cases suggest that those caring for world leaders at the end of their lives today are sometimes as incapable as Roosevelt’s physicians were a half century ago in saving their patients from the protracted suffering and indignities of a lingering death.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution would have had a much longer life had not members of his family systematically tarnished it. From breaking the Congress organization in 1969, to the declaration of Emergency, to the initiation of caste wars, to the encouragement of Sikh militancy, to the decision on Shah Bano, to the opening of the Babri Masjid, and the list goes on, it was Nehru’s bloodline that most effectively downgraded his memory. Experts and commentators connived in this for they were blindsided by the family connection and failed to see the break that was being repeatedly wrought on Nehru’s memory first by his daughter, then his son and then his daughter-in-law and great grandson. So when the time came, and come it would, the haters and baiters of the first Prime Minister easily positioned his memory in the short hairs of their blunderbusses and shot it down.
As it is, Nehru tripped himself up on a number of policies he had staked his reputation on. In times of economic crisis or border threats — as from China — he sidestepped non-alignment and turned to America first. Or, when it came to socialism, he made it known that he would never stand for the Soviet model and preferred the mixed economy instead. That this position was supported by India’s fledgling entrepreneurs of the time only made Nehru’s claim to be a socialist”’ somewhat contrived. Even if socialism were to be interpreted as “welfare statism”, he did precious little on issues like universal health and education.
Nehru, however, played a sterling role in keeping India together in its most critical years after Independence. He was not alone in this, but without his whole hearted support to the making of the Indian Constitution, we would have been a poorer Republic. He weighed in heavily in favour of anti- untouchability, minority rights, and the abolition of feudal privileges which, together, make our Constitution so outstanding. India was a young Republic in 1950, but it looked, talked and walked like a seasoned democratic nation-state. True, he was not alone in this, but as Prime Minister, it was Nehru, more than anybody else, who fleshed out these most singular aspects of our Constitution. It would have been the easiest thing to renege on them given the tensions and uncertainties India faced in the early post- Independence years, but Nehru remained firm.
What made Nehru stand out was his insistence on the principle of fraternity. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to undermine him on this score as fraternity is fashioned on intangibles; it is not made of brick and mortar, nor can it be measured monetarily. Yet, without this all important attribute, neither liberty nor equality makes much sense- they actually ring hollow. Nehru’s contribution to fraternity came through in his insistence on secularism which went all the way from anti-casteism to anti religious sectarianism. He made no compromises on any of these but, unfortunately for him, these can easily be shafted in the name of political expediency. And this is exactly what his daughter, grandson and the succeeding generation did. Secularism has been the single greatest casualty in the five decades of Congress rule after Nehru. It is for this reason that ‘secularism’ today has become the butt of ridicule, and even half literates have a field day in mocking it.
Nehru’s industrialization programme required a long gestation period which people, with a limited time horizon, found difficult to accept. Further, for the mixed economy to succeed, state enterprises had to be super efficient in infrastructure creation. Without laying out this groundwork it would be difficult for the other half of the mixed economy to come of age. This was the true meaning of self-reliance as Nehru saw it and all autarkic versions of it put out by his enemies, and some admirers too, are contrary to this vision. None of this could be accomplished overnight by token gestures and oratorical flourishes; they all required careful calculation, and hard core research and development. Mistakes were made, plans recalibrated, Constitutional impasses overcome and before any of these could be firmed up, Nehru was gone.
Perhaps his record as Prime Minister would have been different had he lived longer. True, he had set himself a gigantic task by standing up for India’s economic sovereignty and battling ceaselessly against traditional prejudices. Yet, sadly and oddly, he failed most monumentally in his lifetime not so much on these grounds as he did because he was an extremely prickly nationalist. Whenever India’s physical integrity faced a threat, even imaginary ones, he was unable to take a proper democratic decision. He blundered on Kashmir and we are still paying for it; he totally miscalculated on China; he did not understand the Sikhs or the sentiments that had been stirred up in the North-East. One could possibly excuse him for these sins for India had just emerged as a Nation-State and the fear of Balkanization was very real in the minds of many. In fact, he feared the breakup of India so profoundly that he was even against the formation of Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as the unilingual state of Punjab.
That is not quite all. Nehru could have set an example and kept his daughter out of politics instead of making her the Congress President. This was the first big nepotistic step in Indian politics which was later justified on all kinds of specious grounds by many Nehru acolytes. The other unpardonable thing he did was to choose Teen Murti, the biggest house in the capital, as his official residence. This encouraged pomp and splendour among ministers and bureaucrats, and this strain has only become worse over time. The subsequent conversion of Teen Murti as Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has also set up a negative precedence. Since then, children of many departed Prime Ministers and political heroes have turned their dead ancestor’s home into public monuments.
In balance, Nehru’s legacy is on its way out. It is, however, in our national interest to keep alive his devotion to the cause of “fraternity”. This can best be done if we do not see the regimes of Indira or Rajiv or Rahul as a continuation of what Nehru stood for. If ever fraternity truly becomes relevant in our country again, nobody will remember that Jawaharlal Nehru was its prime mover once upon a time.
Headline image credit: Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony on August 15, 1947. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Edward Hopper Paints His World
By Robert Burleigh; Paintings by Wendell Minor
Christy Ottaviano Books: Henry Holt and Company. 2014
To write this review, I checked this book out of my local
Little Edward Hopper
had many dreams.
But one dream was biggest of all—he was going to be a painter
when he grew up.
In Edward Hopper Paints
Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth of Nations member states since the end of the First World War to remember those who have died in the line of duty. It is observed by a two-minute silence on the ’11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month’, in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente on 11 November, 1918. The First World War officially ended with the signing of theTreaty of Versailleson 28 June 1919. In the UK, Remembrance Sunday occurs on the Sunday closest to the 11th November, and is marked by ceremonies at local war memorials in most villages, towns, and cities. The red poppy has become a symbol for Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae.
You can discover more about the history behind the First World War by exploring the free resources included in theinteractive imageabove.
Feature image credit: Poppy Field, by Martin LaBar. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.
Jen Bryant and Melissa Stewart are the dream team of children's nonfiction picture books. A River of Words won a Caldecott Honor in 2009, and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin won a