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Walt Whitman on Beethoven and the Power of Music to Effect Full-Body Transcendence


In praise of the “dainty abandon” that awakens us to wonder and carries us outside ourselves. “Feeling, life, motion and emotion constitute its import,” philosopher Susanne Langer wrote of music, which she defined as “a highly articulated sensuous object.” Although many great writers have contemplated the power of music, few have articulated it more perfectly or more sensuously than Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) does in Specimen Days (public library) — the sublime collection of prose fragments and journal entries, which gave us Whitman on the wisdom of trees and which the poet himself described as “a melange of loafing, looking, hobbling, sitting, traveling — a little thinking thrown in for salt, but very little — …mostly the scenes everybody sees, but some of my own caprices, meditations, egotism.” And what a beautiful, generous egotism it is.

The Phoenix of Equality: How Pioneering Firefighter Brenda Berkman Won Women’s Right to Herosim


“My uniform is emblematic of my philosophy that people should try to leave the world better than they found it.” “No woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!

Technology, Wisdom, and the Difficult Art of Civilizational Self-Awareness: Thomas Merton’s Beautiful Letter of Appreciation to Rachel Carson for Catalyzing the Environmental Movement


“Technics and wisdom are not by any means opposed. On the contrary, the duty of our age… is to unite them in a supreme humility which will result in a totally self-forgetful creativity and service.” “Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent,” marine biologist and poet laureate of science Rachel Carson wrote to her soul mate, Dorothy, before the release of Silent Spring — Carson’s epoch-making 1962 book that catalyzed the modern environmental movement.

Between Sinew and Spirit: Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body?


An animated journey to the center of the self. “The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use,” computing pioneer Alan Turing wrote as he anguished at the intersection of love and loss.

Oliver Sacks on the Three Essential Elements of Creativity


“It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction.” “And don’t ever imitate anybody,” Hemingway cautioned in his advice to aspiring writers.

Carl Sagan on the Power of Books and Reading as the Path to Democracy


“Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” “Someone reading a book is a sign of order in the world,” wrote the poet Mary Ruefle.

The Wisdom of Trees: Walt Whitman on What Our Silent Friends Teach Us About Being Rather Than Seeming


A supreme lesson in authenticity from a being “so innocent and harmless, yet so savage.” “When we have learned how to listen to trees,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions, “then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.” Two generations earlier, a different titan of poetic sentiment extolled trees not only as a source of joy but as a source of unheralded moral wisdom and an improbable yet formidable model of what is noblest in the human character.

Great Writers on the Letters of the Alphabet, Illustrated by David Hockney


A choral serenade to the building blocks of language starring Susan Sontag, Iris Murdoch, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, Martin Amis, Doris Lessing, John Updike, and more titans of literature.

Love Found: A Diverse Illustrated Collection of Classic Poems Celebrating Desire, Longing, and Devotion


“Sit. Feast on your life.” “The alternations between love and its denial, suffering and denial of suffering … constitute the most essential and ubiquitous structural feature of the human heart,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in contemplating how we know we love somebody.

An Ode to the Number Pi by Nobel-Winning Polish Poet Wisława Szymborska


“…nudging, always nudging a sluggish eternity to continue.” I am thinking about time this morning — about how it expands and contracts in the open fist of memory, how the same duration can feel like a blink or incline toward the infinite.

Pioneering Education Reformer Elizabeth Peabody on the True Object of Study


The pleasure of meeting the mind at the edge of its aptitude. “Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being,” Nietzsche wrote in reflecting on the true value of education.

Meet Cipe Pineles: The Remarkable Life and Illustrated Recipes of the Forgotten Pioneer Who Blazed the Way for Women in Design and Publishing


A labor of love four years in the making, celebrating a trailblazing woman who shattered multiple glass ceilings.

Love After Life: Nobel-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman’s Extraordinary Letter to His Departed Wife


Where the hard edge of physics meets the vulnerable metaphysics of the human heart. Few people have enchanted the popular imagination with science more powerfully and lastingly than physicist Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918–February 15, 1988) — the “Great Explainer” with the uncommon gift for bridging the essence of science with the most human and humane dimensions of life.

An Alternative View of Human Nature: Rebecca Solnit on Disaster as a Catalyst for Dignity, Agency, and Human Goodness


“The constellations of solidarity, altruism, and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times.” In his diary of moral development, young Tolstoy proclaimed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you?

Big Wolf & Little Wolf: A Tender Tale of Loneliness, Belonging, and How Friendship Transforms Us


A subtle meditation on the meaning of solidarity, the relationship between the ego and the capacity for love, and the little tendrils of care that become the armature of friendship.

A Life of One’s Own: A Penetrating 1930s Field Guide to Mindful Perception and the Art of Knowing What You Really Want


“I did not know that I could only get the most out of life by giving myself up to it.” “One must know what one wants to be,” the eighteenth-century French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet wrote in weighing the nature of genius.

W.E.B. Du Bois’s Little-Known, Arresting Modernist Data Visualizations of Black Life for the World’s Fair of 1900


A trailblazing effort “to give, in as systematic and compact a form as possible, the history and present condition of a large group of human beings.” On a recent research visit to the Emily Dickinson museum and archives in Amherst, I chanced upon a most improbable discovery of forgotten, pioneering work by another titan of culture.

The Five Invitations: Zen Hospice Project Co-founder Frank Ostaseski on Love, Death, and the Essential Habits of Mind for a Meaningful Life


“The sort of fearless openness required to turn toward our suffering is only possible within the spacious receptivity of love.” “It is the most supremely interesting moment in life, the only one in fact when living seems life,” wrote Alice James, the brilliant and terminally ill sister of Henry James and William James, as she reflected on how to live fully while dying.

The Little-Known Visual Art of E.E. Cummings


“Why do you paint? For exactly the same reason I breathe.” “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” wrote E.E.

Existential Psychologist Rollo May on Freedom and the Significance of the Pause


“Freedom is the capacity to pause in the face of stimuli from many directions at once and, in this pause, to throw one’s weight toward this response rather than that one.” “Everything can be taken from a man,” the great Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his timeless treatise on the human search for meaning, “but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” A generation later, James Baldwin examined how we imprison ourselves and asserted: “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.” These are discomfiting sentiments, for they annihilate the protective possibility for self-victimization and place the responsibility for freedom squarely on our own shoulders — a responsibility whose first demand is that we learn to want to be free.


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