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...

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...

Parrots Over Puerto Rico: An Illustrated Children’s Book Celebrating the Spirit of Conservation

The heartening story of one of Earth’s most beautiful bird species, an underdog of geopolitics and evolution. Most children’s books are full of animals — as protagonists, as pets, as age-old standbys in fairy tales and alphabet primers alike. But, as Jon Mooallem poignantly observed in his bittersweet love letter to wildlife, by the time...

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 —...

The Poetics of Reverie: Philosopher Gaston Bachelard on Dreams, Love, Solitude, and Happiness

“There are still souls for whom love is the contact of two poetries, the fusion of two reveries.” “Creative writing, like a day-dream,” Freud observed, “is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.” But how, exactly, does the playful imagination weave dream and storytelling together to frame our...

How a Vintage Children’s Book Illustrated by Lynd Ward Saved New York’s Iconic Little Red Lighthouse

A timeless testament to the power of stirring the collective imagination. In 1880, a little lighthouse was erected on New Jersey’s Sandy Hook to guide arriving ships into New York Harbor. But by 1917, this friendly nocturnal sherpa had become obsolete, so it was dismantled and put in storage. Four years later, it was reassembled...

Edna St. Vincent Millay on the Death Penalty and What It Really Means to Be an Anarchist

“The minds of your children are like clear pools, reflecting faithfully whatever passes on the bank…” In 1921, Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, both in their thirties, were convicted of murdering two payroll guards during a bank robbery in Massachusetts. The conviction was made despite highly questionable ballistic evidence and multiple eyewitness accounts...

The Science of Dust, Picasso’s Favorite Phenomenon

“With every breath, we inhale a bit of the story of our universe, our planet’s past and future…” It takes more than three centuries for a one-foot layer of dust to accumulate. The entirety of the Roman Empire is buried nine feet underground — that is, under nine feet of tightly compacted dust. This household...

July 18, 1992: The First Photo Uploaded to the Web, of CERN’s All-Girl Science Rock Band

Love and science set to song, from quarks to colliders. In 1990, shortly before a CERN physicist subverted gender and science stereotypes by adapting Alice in Wonderland as an allegory in quantum mechanics, a different type of delightful subversion was afoot at the famed European Organization for Nuclear Research, now home to the Large Hadron...

The Book of Trees: 800 Years of Visualizing Science, Religion, and Knowledge in Symbolic Diagrams

How the humble tree became our most powerful visual metaphor for organizing information and distilling our understanding of the world. Why is it that when we behold the oldest living trees in the world, primeval awe runs down our spine? We are entwined with trees in an elemental embrace, both biological and symbolic, depending on...

A Brief History of How Bees Sexed Up Earth and Gave Flowers Their Colors

How a striped, winged, six-legged love machine sparked “the longest marketing campaign in history.” The great E.O. Wilson is credited with having once said, “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would...

Beloved British Artist Ralph Steadman Illustrates the Life of Leonardo da Vinci

A visual “autobiography” of the legendary polymath that grants equal dignity to the grit and the glory. Freud once observed that the great Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci was “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.” And how blazingly awake he was — his Vitruvian...

David Bowie Answers the Famous Proust Questionnaire

“Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? A: Living in fear.” In the 1880s, long before he claimed his status as one of the greatest authors of all time, teenage Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871–November 18, 1922) filled out an English-language questionnaire given to him by his friend Antoinette, the daughter...

Bohemians: A Graphic History of Creative Mavericks

Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Josephine Baker, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Thelonious Monk, and other creative mavericks of semi-subversive status. Long before there were hipsters and squares, even before there were beatniks, there were Bohemians — named after Bohemia, a geographical area part of the modern Czech Republic, which mid-nineteenth-century French journalists mistakenly believed to be...

The Man Who Turned Paper into Pixels: How Mathematician and Black Jack Wizard Claude Shannon Ignited the Information Age

How the most important man you never heard of laid the groundwork for the digital world. The so-called Information Age we live in, like all major leaps in human achievement, isn’t a self-contained bubble that coalesced out of nothingness in a flash of genius but the cumulative product of incremental innovation stretching back centuries. It...

The Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework: A Proto-Feminist Children’s Book from 1935

A visionary fable about equality delivered through a comic Rube Goldberg machine of domestic disaster. In 1928, nearly a century before the internet cat memes reached their crescendo, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág won the prestigious Newbery and Lewis Carroll Shelf awards for her children’s book Millions of Cats, the oldest American...

Tove Jansson’s Rare Vintage Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

Down the rabbit-hole, Moomin-style. As a lifelong lover of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I was thrilled to discover one of its most glorious creative permutations over the past century and a half came from none other than beloved Swedish-speaking Finnish artist Tove Jansson. In 1959, three years before the publication of her gorgeous illustrations...

A Brief History of Glass and How It Planted the Seed for the Innovation Gap Between the East and West

“The material world is not just a display of our technology and culture, it is part of us. We invented it, we made it, and in turn it makes us who we are.” By 1950, Picasso was already an artist world-renowned for his creative products — paintings, sculptures, bronze casts — but only those in...

The Invisibles: Moving Vintage Photos of LGBT Couples in the Early 20th Century

Archival images — sometimes poignant, sometimes playful, invariably tender — of gay and lesbian couples privately celebrating their love in an era that denied it. Any form of excess can usually be traced to the seed of a basic human longing. Before photography turned into excessive “aesthetic consumerism,” long prior to the narcissistic golden age...