What Children Can Teach Us About Risk, Failure, and Personal Growth

“Our fear of failure … assures the progressive narrowing of the personality.” “If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt,” E.F. Schumacher wrote in his timelessly wonderful A Guide for the Perplexed in 1977, “I minimize the risk of error but I maximize, at the same time, the risk of missing...

What Makes a Baby: A Playful Illustrated Primer for Every Kind of Family and Every Kind of Kid

An inclusive and imaginative take on reproduction. Benjamin Franklin’s oft-cited proclamation that nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes omits another existential inevitability, and arguably one no less pleasant — the question every parent dreads and no parent ever escapes: where do babies come from? After illustrator Sophie Blackall’s sweet and honest...

Charity and Sylvia: The Remarkable Story of How Two Women Married Each Other in Early America

“For 40 years… they have shared each other’s occupations and pleasures and works of charity while in health, and watched over each other tenderly in sickness.” In 1897, a man by the name of Hiram Harvey Hurlburt recorded in his diary: “Miss Bryant and Miss Drake were married to each other.” Nine decades earlier in...

Truth and Tenderness: Ralph Waldo Emerson on Friendship and Its Two Essential Conditions

“What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?” It’s been argued that friendship is a greater gift than romantic love (though it’s not uncommon for one to turn abruptly into the other), but whatever the case, friendship is certainly one of the most rewarding fruits...

Jane Goodall Answers the Proust Questionnaire

A dead writer meets one of the greatest scientists alive. A century before today’s popular personality quizzes, Victorian “confession albums” served essentially the same role, presenting a series of simple questions designed to reveal the respondent’s sensibility and aspirations. In the 1880s, teenage Marcel Proust was given one such questionnaire by his friend Antoinette, the...

Art, Inc.: A Field Guide to the Psychology and Practicalities of Becoming a Successful Artist

How to master the business of art without buying into the toxic myth that doing so makes you a lesser artist. “Art is a form of consciousness,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. But for many working artists, who straddle the balance between creativity and commerce, art swells into a form of uncomfortable self-consciousness —...

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“To not have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.” “Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut,” Charles Bukowski wrote in his famous poem about what it takes to be a writer, “don’t do it.” But Bukowski himself...

Flashlight: A Whimsical Wordless Story about Curiosity and Wonder

Shedding light on the wonderland that unfolds when you simply dare, and care, to look. As an immense lover of smart children’s books and of cleverly deployed die-cut ingenuity, I was instantly taken with Flashlight (public library) by Vermont-based illustrator Lizi Boyd — a wordless story about curiosity and wonder, following a little boy who...

Bad Feminist: Roxane Gay on the Complexities and Blind Spots of the Equality Movement

“Feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.” “Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers,” science correspondent Shankar Vedantam wrote in his excellent exploration of our hidden biases. “Those who swim against the current may never realize they are...

Ordering the Heavens: How Johannes Hevelius, the Last and Greatest of the Naked-Eye Astronomers, Cataloged the Stars

How a visionary manuscript, completed by the first female astronomer of the Western world, survived three fires to become a beacon of scientific dedication. On September 26, 1679, a fierce fire consumed the Stellaburgum — Europe’s finest observatory, built by the pioneering astronomer Johannes Hevelius in the city of Danzig, present-day Poland, decades before the...

David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We Are

“Good writing isn’t a science. It’s an art, and the horizon is infinite. You can always get better.” In late 1999, David Foster Wallace — poignant contemplator of death and redemption, tragic prophet of the meaning of life, champion of intelligent entertainment, admonisher against blind ambition, advocate of true leadership — called the office of...

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

“Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.” More than a century before Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of writing inspired similar sets of commandments by Neil Gaiman, Zadie Smith, and Margaret Atwood, one of humanity’s greatest minds did precisely that. Between August 8...

Art & Physics: Leonard Shlain on Integrating Wonder and Wisdom

“Art and physics, like wave and particle, are an integrated duality … two different but complementary facets of a single description of the world.” “It’s part of the nature of man,” Ray Bradbury told Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke as they peered into the future of space exploration, “to start with romance and build...

Margaret Mead on Female vs. Male Creativity, the “Bossy” Problem, Equality in Parenting, and Why Women Make Better Scientists

“In the long run it is the complex interplay of different capacities, feminine and masculine, that protects the humanity of human beings.” Margaret Mead is celebrated as the world’s best-known and most influential cultural anthropologist, having not only popularized anthropology itself but also laid the foundation for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. She brought...

How Susan Sontag Possessed New York and Subverted Sexual Stereotypes

“Sontag seemed to exude an irresistible mixture of intelligence, hipness, sex, and beauty.” In addition to being a great personal hero of mine, Susan Sontag endures as one of the most influential intellectuals of the past century. But her most enchanting quality was a singular blend of fierce, opinionated intellect and vast emotional capacity —...