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Having exposed the power of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud was hardly modest in assessing his own achievement. Like Copernicus and Darwin, he argued, his theories had delivered the “third and most wounding blow” to the “naïve self-love” that characterized human culture. Freud insisted that the very features that supposedly marked humans as unique and special—including rational thought, free will, and an assured sense of self-identity—were nothing less than narcissistic illusions. Enlightenment theories were mistaken, he claimed, to insist that the human mind was transparent and fully knowable and that the Ego was “master of its own house” (171). Over the past few decades, Freudian theories have generally fallen into disfavor, for reasons that the author concedes are sometimes perfectly sensible; Freud’s work could sometimes be viewed as crudely formulated, astonishingly sexist, and even misanthropic in its insistence that a “general unhappiness” is the normal psychological condition of the human species. For these and other reasons, Freud’s broader interests in the unconscious and subconscious have been thrown to the side as well, as the psychiatric profession turned from psychoanalysis to pharmaceutical therapy and as behaviorist theories in psychology marginalized virtually all curiosity about mental states. Hidden Minds, however, is premised on the view that Freud was, at least partially, correct. The “discovery” of the unconscious had delivered “the third blow,” knocking human consciousness from its privileged position in the study of the mind. But as Tallis, a British writer and clinical psychologist, explains, the discovery of the unconscious was not Freud’s alone. Rather, it had been identified by a long string of philosophers, poets, theologians, and others who pre-empted Freud’s theories by decades if not centuries. To demonstrate this premise, Hidden Minds takes its readers on an eclectic journey that begins with the emergence of Romanticism in philosophy and the arts. Tallis argues that we can pinpoint the arrival of the unconscious in the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, as well as the opium-induced reflections of Thomas De Quincey, each of whom saw the mind as a stratified realm whose deepest levels harbored universal wisdom. For them, the unconscious was “a storehouse of ancient lore, symbols, and leitmotif” that burst through the “membrane” of the conscious world during states of creativity, madness, intoxication or (perhaps most mundanely) exhaustion and sleep. The idea of the unconscious was fruitful in the nineteenth century when the European intellectual climate “favoured the recognition of unconscious mental activity” (29). The author argues that the study of the unconscious was appealing not merely to literary minds, but to psychologists and physicians as well. Over time, the notion that the human unconscious could be accessed through dreams and altered states gave way to the idea—explored by physiologists—that the physical effects of the unconscious could be measured empirically. Meanwhile, to others the unconscious seemed to offer a way of understanding illnesses like hysteria and other extraordinary disorders that appeared to stem from no physical cause or trauma. Mesmerism and other forms of spiritualism thus gave way to more systematic clinical work, including that of Paul Janet (described by Tallis as psychology’s forgotten Newton), whose studies of hysteria paved the way to Freud’s. (The chapter on Janet is one of the more fascinating sections of the book.) Building on this legacy, Freud’s great achievement was to fully describe the role played by the unconscious in ordinary human psychology (and not simply in the emergence of neuroses) and to improve upon the methods of psychoanalysis that are so commonly associated with his legacy. The two chapters on Freud provide a fine general overview of his theories, as well as the professional climate in which they evolved. His rivalry with Carl Jung receives extensive treatment, but even more importantly, Tallis surveys the manner in which “the vocabulary and principles of psychoanalysis spread through Europe and North America,” where they became ubiquitous in film, literature, music, art, and theater. In psychology, Freud’s fate was less auspicious, as psychologists turned away from the unconscious and toward the social factors shaping individual and collective behavior. Nevertheless, Tallis spends much of the book arguing that in a variety of fields—cognitive psychology, computer science, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology—the Freudian unconscious survived as a subject of interest. Taken individually, these chapters provide fascinating and concise looks at how contemporary notions of artificial intelligence, human phobias, subliminal messaging, and numerous other subjects, have been shaped by a fundamental recognition of the unconscious. In the end, the unconscious raises the same questions now that it posed to Freud and others in the past. If human conduct and identity are determined somehow by the unconscious, can we truly assume that we are free? Can we continue to see ourselves as rational? How would recognition of the unconscious shape our moral and legal codes? Does the “self” in fact exist? Hidden Minds does not aim to supply the answers to those questions, but it does a worthy job of showing where they came from and why they continue to matter.

Having exposed the power of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud was hardly modest in assessing his own achievement. Like Copernicus and Darwin, he argued, his theories had delivered the “third and most w...

Although he died nearly 400 years ago, William Shakespeare’s legacy continues to resonate today. His works, which include 37 plays, five poems, and 154 sonnets, strike a chord with modern audiences not only because they are immensely entertaining, thought-provoking, and filled with vividly drawn characters, but also because of the Bard’s universal themes—power, love, loyalty, family, revenge, jealousy, and virtue. In Shakespeare’s Philosophy, Colin McGinn writes about the philosophical themes embedded in Shakespeare’s works. McGinn’s approach, and, therefore, his book, is not a literary examination, but rather a philosophical analysis of six of Shakespeare’s great plays: Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and The Tempest. Educated at Oxford University, McGinn has taught philosophy at University College of London, Oxford, and Rutgers University and is currently a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Miami. He has written 16 previous books, including The Making of a Philosopher. The book is divided into 12 chapters. The first one focuses on general themes, such as evil, terror and anxiety, man versus nature, magic, power and knowledge, language and power, and deception. Chapters 2-7 cover analyses of the plays mentioned above and each begins with a listing of the play’s protagonists. This helps the reader gain familiarity with the principal characters and is a nice way to introduce the thoughtful analysis that follows. Chapters 8-12 touch on Shakespeare and gender, psychology, ethics, tragedy, and genius, respectively. There is also a comprehensive notes section, along with a bibliography and index. In Shakespeare’s Philosophy, McGinn states that the general themes of uncertainty and doubt pervade all the Bard’s works. Uncertainty is evident in three areas: knowledge and skepticism, the nature of the self, and the character of causality. Skepticism and doubt ran rampant during Shakespeare’s time, with the crisis in Church authority (the split between Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation). McGinn says this skepticism is evident in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Othello. Further, McGinn remarks that Shakespeare’s tragedies “often revolve around the tragedy of knowledge itself” (p. 8). There is no doubt that Shakespeare was heavily influenced by the essays of French aristocrat and author, Michel Montaigne, says McGinn, who also indicates that some of Shakespeare’s ideas in his plays relate to those of later philosophers like David Hume, and even such modern commentators as Harold Bloom. The nature of the self is examined in great detail in Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. These title characters are elusive personalities who transform before our eyes. McGinn finds that madness is another of Shakespeare’s concerns, being a “kind of psychological metamorphosis” (p. 10). Sleep, dreaming, and death also intrigued Shakespeare, asserts McGinn, relative to questions of self. Many of Shakespeare’s principal characters suffer self-deception, as in King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth. As to causality (why do things happen?), in Shakespeare’s works, according to McGinn, things are unruly, paradoxical, unpredictable, blind, and unintelligible. He states that Shakespeare’s tragic vision “shocks us out of our causal complacency” (p. 15). [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"]William Shakespeare William Shakespeare[/caption] Midsummer Night’s Dream carries the theme of dream skepticism—how difficult it is to distinguish dreaming from wakefulness and illusion from reality. Regarded as Shakespeare’s first great play, Midsummer Night’s Dream deals with interactions of fantasy. McGinn finds this play free in structure and wholly original (not based on any prior story or dream). In this play, “everything is subject to doubt, nothing is certain” (p. 22). The theme of personal transformation is also evident: characters mutate and transform throughout the play, and doubts about personal identity abound. Insanity, love and sex, acting, and imagination also transform characters in the play. To McGinn, the interaction between perception and imagination is one of Midsummer’s central themes. Hamlet is about the constitution of the self, with McGinn asserting that “The self is more like the beads on a string than the string itself” (p. 38). With the appearance of the ghost, the issue of identity is both “concise” and “elusive” (p. 40). The play contains numerous accidents/reversals, but at the core, it is the mystery of Hamlet’s character that most concerns and entertains us. Is he a dreamer or a murderer; is he mad? Hamlet is impossible to pin down. The way out of Hamlet’s melancholy is to play a part, which McGinn calls the “theatrical conception of the self” (p. 45). McGinn likens Hamlet to a performer who lapses into despondency when he’s without a stage. By the end of the play, Hamlet “finally succeeds … he finds a part he can play” (p. 48). Hamlet’s inability to act is his predicament. “To be or not to be”—the play’s most famous line—is also one of literature’s most quoted. Hamlet also speculates about dreaming death, which McGinn says indicates Hamlet is “certifiably sick in the head” (p. 55). McGinn concludes that Hamlet and Shakespeare are realists, stating that Shakespeare “believes in the reality of things we cannot comprehend” (p. 57). As Hamlet dies at the end of the play, he exhorts Horatio to tell his story. Why, asks McGinn, before he answers that Hamlet’s whole life was a play. “He can conceive of himself in fictional terms. He can be only when he occupies a role” (p. 60). Othello covers the theme of error and epistemological anxiety, especially regarding the minds of others. This is a story of deception and derangement centering on the question: how can you ever know what’s really going on in other people’s minds? We make guesses based on observation of external behavior, but inferences are fallible and flawed. Language, similarly, is often used to deceive and thus serves as a barrier. In Othello, Iago constantly deceives and Othello misreads language, actions, and his own inferences of what’s going on in Iago’s mind. Action and deception (or lying), says McGinn, “are closely related skills” (p. 66), and this is a “deeply philosophical play” (p. 67). Deception runs throughout the play, along with the elusiveness of truth. McGinn points out that the play’s central tragedy is “the tragedy of knowledge itself” (p. 70) and concludes that “Othello’s enemy was as much his own unruly mind as the deceiver Iago” (p. 79). On the face of it, Macbeth is a play about ambition, revenge, and power. It is, as McGinn states, akin to today’s action-thriller stories, yet the play is also rife with philosophical themes: the relationship between character, the power of imagination, the appearance/reality distinction, and the nature of time. Initially, Macbeth is not a murderer, but once he slays King Duncan, subsequent evil acts and madness become easier. By play’s end, Macbeth is “a vicious tyrant, loathed by his subjects, steeped in guild and blood–an absolute bastard” (p. 92). Shakespeare shows the audience how evil actions, undertaken for self-interest, “have consequences for the psyche of the agent” (p. 93). Macbeth, a very complex character, has a conscience, unlike Iago in Othello, and Macbeth’s conscience overcomes him. McGinn observes that where Hamlet’s being is nothingness, Macbeth’s being is doing. Macbeth is also vulnerable to the power of his own imagination. McGinn argues that King Lear examines man in nature and at the limits of his being and non-being. It is a play about nothingness, cruelty, and things out of place. In this play, McGinn states, “Shakespeare is distilling tragedy to its bare existence” (p. 116). There are no supernatural elements in the play, no ghosts. Lear’s world is one of mindless causality and evil-minded characters. Evil, it seems, is rampant throughout the play, but there’s also the opposite—good. The play is about Lear’s arc from “confident ignorance to hard-won insight” (p. 128). Concluding his analysis of this play, McGinn states Shakespeare felt it was better to accept ignorance than to “bandy pseudo-scientific explanations” (p. 133). Generally agreed to be Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest (written about 1610), is structurally similar to Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he wrote at the beginning of his playwriting period. Both concern a father marrying off a daughter; both occur in a magical or enchanted place, and both feature humans who are mostly lost and foolish, with delusions, powerlessness, and belief in magic. The difference between the two plays is that Midsummer Night’s Dream focuses on the theme of the power of imagination, while The Tempest is all about the power of language, connected with magic. Despite the title, McGinn contends that the “tempest” referred to is more the “storm of speech… [that] constitutes so much of human life” (p. 136). The meaning of sounds (language) is what determines their imprint on the mind, with speech being a kind of causal influence. Language in the play also helps create its own world. McGinn offers that language has ambivalence: it can illuminate and deceive. Since this was Shakespeare’s last play, McGinn wonders whether the message the Bard intended to convey was that the time for silence had come. Overall, McGinn says The Tempest is an “allegory of the solitary artist’s mind and its inner architecture” (p. 147). This well-written book examines Shakespeare and the principal characters from six of his plays (two comedies and four tragedies). It is obvious that McGinn, himself a philosopher, clearly delights in relating philosophical aspects of Shakespeare’s vivid characters, their actions, and their world. Easy to digest, the book is a terrific addition to scholarly works on perhaps the world’s best-known playwright. For anyone who seeks to find deeper philosophical meaning in Shakespeare’s works, there’s no better source than McGinn’s Shakespeare’s Philosophy.

Although he died nearly 400 years ago, William Shakespeare’s legacy continues to resonate today. His works, which include 37 plays, five poems, and 154 sonnets, strike a chord with modern audiences ...

1. Paul Dirac (1902-1984), the English theoretical physicist, was forced to learn French. To teach his children the language, Dirac's father demanded that his children converse with him only in French. If one of them did not know how to express themselves in the language at any point, he would simply remain silent, as if awaiting a spontaneous utterance.
2. Dirac's childhood was rather unhappy. Along with having an overly authoritative father, his older brother Reginald committed suicide as a young adult, causing his parents great distress and undoubtedly leaving a permanent scar upon Dirac's young heart. 3. Though he passed the entrance exam into Cambridge and received a generous scholarship, he struggled to afford tuition and rent. Despite these struggles, Dirac persevered to complete undergraduate education, eventually earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and graduating with first-class honors. 4. Like any man, Dirac was far from perfect. Einstein once remarked that he was constantly “balancing on the dizzying path between genius and madness.” 5. Dirac's monumental work, The Principle of Quantum Mechanics (1930), was immediately considered an excellent resource for physicists. Despite its nearly 100-year antiquity, it is still used as a textbook in classrooms today. [caption id="attachment_36098" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Paul Dirac Paul Dirac[/caption] 6. In 1933, at the age of 31, Dirac achieved his greatest claim to fame by receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics alongside fellow physicist Erwin Schrödinger. 7. The equation that bears his name is the famed Dirac Equation. It is recognized for predicting the existence of antimatter and explaining the behavior of electrons. The equation also revealed that what often appears to be empty space is actually filled with particles undergoing a process known as pair production. 8. Dirac was not very exceptional when it came to looks. On the outside, he appeared to be a simple and dowdy man. Along with this, he was rather introverted. His colleagues joked that a conversation with him moved no faster than one word per hour. Since he preferred solitude and was not prone to starting conversations, his colleagues were very surprised when he found his wife, Margit Wigner. 9. In the 1970s, Dirac became a professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. While there, he became a considerably more sociable person, even offering to eat lunch with his students. Sharing a meal with his pupils was something he never considered doing while teaching at Cambridge.  10. The Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom posthumously created the Paul Dirac Medal, which has since been awarded to numerous scientific contributors. The first recipient was Stephen Hawking in 1987.  SUGGESTED READING [table id=22 /]

1. Paul Dirac (1902-1984), the English theoretical physicist, was forced to learn French. To teach his children the language, Dirac’s father demanded that his children converse with him only in ...

1. Although René Descartes is primarily known for his philosophy, he was also a mathematician. He created the rectangular coordinate system, which is also known as the Cartesian coordinate system. It is rumored that he came up with the system while lying in bed, watching a bug crawl on his ceiling. He also believed that monkeys were able to talk, but did not communicate with humans so as not to be controlled by them.
2. Descartes entered the Jesuit college of La Flèche in Anjou at the age of eight and studied there for eight years. 3. Because of his poor health, Descartes was allowed to sleep in an extra five hours at his school. In fact, it is rumored that he never awoke before 11 in the morning! Despite the lost time, Descartes was still considered an excellent student, preferring to do his work in bed. 3. Descartes stood only 5'1" tall. 4. Descartes had a daughter, Francine, with a domestic servant named Helena Jans van der Strom. Although Francine was considered an illegitimate child of Descartes, her baptism records record her birth as legitimate. She died at the young age of five of scarlet fever. 5. Descartes loved to dress up in fancy clothes. He was rarely caught in any casual clothing! 6. Although it never interested him, Descartes was a licensed lawyer. However, he never entered the practice, preferring philosophy instead. 7. In 1619, Descartes believed he received some prophetic dreams. These dreams encouraged him to pursue knowledge, truth, and philosophy. He claimed that by following these visions, he was able to come up with analytical geometry. 8. Startled by Galileo’s house arrest for his heretical publications, Descartes became more private with his own writings, and parts of his works, especially Le Monde, were destroyed. 9. Descartes corresponded with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia and exchanged philosophical ideas with her. His Principia Philosophiae was dedicated to her. 10. Descartes died in Stockholm, Sweden in 1650. But because Descartes was a devout Catholic, he was initially buried in a cemetery for unbaptized babies as Sweden was a Protestant country. His remains are now rumored to be in the Panthéon, and there is a possibility that his heart is in a cemetery in Paris. SUGGESTED READING [table id=37 /]

1. Although René Descartes is primarily known for his philosophy, he was also a mathematician. He created the rectangular coordinate system, which is also known as the Cartesian coordinate system. It...

In Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Press, 2008), literary critic and feminist academic Alison Light employs extensive research and elegant prose to challenge our understanding of Virginia Woolf as a champion of women’s rights. Light relies on an extensive and layered critique of Woolf’s diaries, letters, and fiction to explore how this celebrated author, a product of her upper-class upbringing, openly disdained the lower class female servants who cared for her throughout her life. Woolf’s landmark feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own” asserted that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” As Light argues, even a “room of one’s own” needed cleaning, and Woolf, like many of her class and generation, took the cleaners for granted. Light, who previously edited an edition of Woolf’s novel Flush and also wrote Forever England: Femininity, Literature, and Conservatism Between the Wars, is well-versed in Woolf’s writing and the time in which she lived. Mrs. Woolf and the Servants is divided into five sections. The first section, “The Family Treasure,” explores Woolf’s childhood and the servants of her parents’ household; the second, “Housemaids’ Souls,” focuses on the rise of Bloomsbury and the servants who worked in that circle, and the third section, “The Question of Nelly” looks at the decades in which Virginia and her husband employed her cook/maid Nellie Boxall. (Even though her name was spelled Nellie, Woolf misspelled it—for 18 years—as “Nelly”). The fourth section, “Memoirs of a Lavatory Attendant,” delves deeper into how Woolf portrayed servants in her literature, and the last section, “Afterlives,” looks at the lives of several of Woolf’s servants after they left her employ. Light, who is currently a visiting professor at Newcastle and Oxford universities, sets the stage for a thorough examination of the predominance of live-in “help” in the Victorian age that Woolf and her peers were born into and the subsequent decline of service through the Edwardian, World War I, and Interwar periods. Light notes that nearly a third of the total female workforce in Britain, during 1900, served as domestic help, and by the early 1930s this percentage had dropped to one-fourth. As employment opportunities opened up with the advent of manufacturing, secretarial work, and other professions, fewer women were interested in working as “domestics.” Combined with this new trend was the advent of modern technologies, such as refrigeration, indoor plumbing, and vacuuming, all of which lessened the amount of work that households needed to function properly. Throughout her life, Virginia Woolf was served by women. She was raised in a household with several live-in cooks and maids. As she entered young adulthood and moved from house to house with relatives, some of these same cooks and maids followed her. Woolf struggled with the changes in domestic service; she remembered fondly the old-fashioned, obedient Victorian servants of her parents’ household and saw the “Georgian cook” of the early 20th century as a troublingly independent figure. Light meticulously documents the below-market wages and old-fashioned tasks Woolf’s servants were expected to be content with (for many years, the Woolfs refused to modernize their summer house with “water closets”—bathrooms—making servants empty chamber pots). Woolf and her fellow Bloomsbury members were pacifists, socialists, and feminists. But as Light so ably demonstrates in this work, when it came to Britain’s class system, Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury colleagues (who traded servants among their households for decades) were not open or enlightened. Many times, the phrases that Woolf used to describe the servants were shocking in their prejudice. At one point, when Nellie Boxall was sick, Woolf commented that “the absence of lower classes” around her home was “a divine relief.” She criticized her cook for having “hysteria,” even though Woolf herself was hospitalized for the same ailment. In one diary entry, she wrote, “I must go and see what that poor gaping imbecile my charwoman is doing about dinner.” And in another patronizing passage, Woolf noted, “The poor have no chance; no manners or self-control to protect themselves with; we [the upper class] have a monopoly of all the generous feelings.” Light imparts many more troubling examples of Woolf’s attitude toward the household staff, but she also deftly reveals how this influenced Woolf’s novels. She examines several passages which highlight servant characters, and finds that they are often used as symbols to “clean away” the past and make way for the future—not a future for themselves but Woolf’s upper-class heroines. To help counter Woolf’s voice, Light does an admirable job of reconstructing the lives of the Woolf family’s maids and cooks. It’s a daunting task, since these women, like many working-class people, had little time to write. But Light’s extensive research leaves the reader with a strong impression of what it was like to work in Woolf’s household. Light also unearths a surprising nine-page letter Woolf received from one Agnes Smith, who worked as a weaver. She criticized Woolf for the class prejudice in her book Three Guineas. Smith wrote: “Your book would make some people think that you consider working women, and the daughters of educated men as a race apart. Do you think we enjoy being ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water,' that we do menial tasks from choice and are fitted for nothing else?” There is no doubt that Woolf was a groundbreaking feminist and a talented modernist writer who explored the ways a male-dominated culture often limited women’s lives and freedoms. Light’s Mrs. Woolf and the Servants does not take away from Woolf’s contributions and accomplishments, but it constructs a portrait of the writer that reveals her to be more complicated, more imperfect, and, ultimately, more human.

In Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Press, 2008), literary critic and feminist academic Alison Light employs extensive research and elegant p...

When the great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős died in 1996 at 83, he left behind a staggering body of work. With nearly 1,500 academic articles to his credit—by far the most extensive publishing record of any mathematician in history—Erdős collaborated with 485 co-authors during his long career. Indeed, the web-like nature of his work inspired his peers to develop something they called the “Erdős Number,” which described the relationship between their own publications and Erdős.' Someone who had co-authored one project with the man, for example, would have an Erdős Number of 1; someone who had published with another person who had collaborated with Erdős, had an Erdős Number of 2; and so on. (It was believed that no published mathematician had an Erdős Number greater than 7). The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, science writer Paul Hoffman’s charming account of Paul Erdős’ life, is not exactly a biography in the traditional sense of the term. Instead, this book, which has been translated into 16 languages and received the Rhone-Poulenc Prize for best science book of the year, examines the professional and personal relationships that Erdős established with fellow mathematicians over the years. In a way, the book plays off the “Erdős Number” and establishes its main character at the center of mathematical problems and human relationships that are complex, humorous and, in the end, surprisingly moving. Readers can expect to learn something about math—including set theory, prime numbers, elementary number theory, unit fractions, and Fermat’s “Little” and “Last” Theorems—but they are also brought into a world of people who believe “mathematics is order and beauty at is purest, order that transcends the physical world” (31). As we learn from the book, Erdős could barely function in the real world. Even readers who stereotype mathematicians as oddballs will find it difficult to believe Paul Hoffman didn’t invent him as a fictional character. As Hoffman describes him, Erdős was a “mathematical monk” who never married (and who shunned physical intimacy), rarely held a job, never owned a home, and enjoyed no hobbies outside of the mathematical problems that dominated his every waking moment. A voracious user of Benzedrine, Ritalin, and caffeine, Erdős spared only a few moments for sleep; he worked about 19 hours a day and traveled extensively, crisscrossing the globe in search of great mathematical minds with whom he might work on proofs and who might feed and shelter him for a while. So complete was Erdős’ commitment to math that he could not spare enough room in his brain to remember how to open a carton of tomato juice or learn how to boil an egg. For Erdős, math was “the only infinite activity” in which humans could partake. “It is conceivable,” he once said, “that humanity could eventually learn everything in physics or biology. But humanity certainly won’t ever be able to find out everything about mathematics, because the subject is infinite. That’s why mathematics is really my only interest” (56). Though math might have been the “only interest” and true love of Erdős’ life, he was at the same time a great, if unintentional, social networker who, in his own peculiar way, showed great concern for the people in his life. When one of his collaborators, the renowned Polish-Ukrainian mathematician Stanislaw Ulam, was afflicted with a life-threatening brain infection, Erdos suddenly appeared at the hospital and invited himself to stay with Ulam and his wife when he was released. For weeks, he hung around with his friend, aiding his recovery by bombarding him with conversation about math and chess. Ulam’s wife—initially horrified by Erdős’ presence—soon realized that he was actually helping him recover his confidence. Hoffman’s book recounts numerous episodes like this, explaining that Erdős viewed it as “his personal mission to help colleagues maintain their mathematical edge” (109). Erdős also challenged young and aspiring mathematicians by loaning them college tuition money; the recipients of these loans would repay them by offering the same support to others when they had the opportunity to do so. Erdős also famously offered cash rewards (ranging between $10 and $3000) for particularly difficult problems that he hoped someone might solve. Because he was single-mindedly devoted to math itself, Erdős did not mind if others gained credit for tackling problems he had developed and posed. As one colleague explained, his goal “was to see that somebody proved it—with or without him” (41). Of all Paul Erdős qualities, it is this—the humility and generosity born out of his love for numbers—that remains as the lasting impression from Hoffman’s story. Readers (like this one) who are not mathematically inclined may find themselves occasionally lost in the algorithmic thickets, as Hoffman describes the complex problems that animated Erdős and his colleagues. Yet the book is ultimately about the ways that devotion to an idea can sustain an individual (in all his odd dimensions) for an entire lifetime—one that touched so many other lives in so many places along the way.

When the great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős died in 1996 at 83, he left behind a staggering body of work. With nearly 1,500 academic articles to his credit—by far the most extensive publishin...

In the years following Alfred Hitchcock’s death in 1980, an image of him as a dark, vindictive, and lecherous man clung to his memory. More than 20 years later, Film historian Patrick McGilligan re-evaluated the film director’s life in his book, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. McGilligan is no stranger to the Hollywood biography, having published biographies of such noted directors as Robert Altman, George Cukor, and Fritz Lang. He focuses primarily on his subject’s career—an easier strategy with Hitchcock, who left little documentary evidence of personal nature and was obsessed with the technical side of his work. Aside from studio sources, McGilligan includes source material in the usual manner for a biographer: archives, personal interviews, books, and articles. He presents enough of Hitchcock’s private life, including its salacious aspects, to give the reader a general idea of what had motivated the “master of suspense.” While generally, the author shies away from film analysis, the book is filled with descriptions of Hitchcock’s working methods. McGilligan quotes numerous sources, but three are particularly interwoven: Hitch, the official biography published by John Russell Taylor in 1978, which served, perhaps more than any other, as the foundation for this work; Hitchcock, François Truffaut’s 1967 interview book; and Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius. Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born on August 13, 1899, in the living quarters above the Leytonstone greengrocer shop his parents ran. Hitchcock’s family were devout Catholics, and he maintained his faith to varying degrees throughout his life and manifested it—again in varying degrees—in his work. While McGilligan does not really push the idea of the Catholic Hitchcock isolated in a nominally Anglican country, he does reinforce the notion that the director "himself said that it might have contributed to his 'eccentricity'" (p. 17). Hitchcock’s parents sent him to a series of Catholic schools culminating with St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit day school, which the young Alfred attended from 1910 to 1913. Afterward, he entered the London County Day School of Engineering and Navigation. A year later, he began working for Henley’s Telegraph Works, where he realized engineering did not interest him. Too young for military service at the outbreak of World War I, McGilligan can only postulate how his subject avoided military induction when he came of age in 1917. He does point out, however, that in 1917 Hitchcock joined a cadet regiment of the Royal Engineers. Once he had established himself at Henley’s and had moved into a London apartment, Hitchcock enrolled in art classes at Goldsmith’s College, an extension of London University. At Henley’s Hitchcock was transferred from sales to advertising—his earliest apprenticeship in the field of public relations and publicity at which his skill eventually rivaled that of his filmmaking technique. He was a founding editor, business manager, and regular contributor to the company’s house organ, The Henley Telegraph, a magazine that went far beyond the usual company news. McGilligan reproduces seven of Hitchcock’s contributions to the magazine, which show his subject’s early style of blending humor, the macabre, and the occasional twist ending. The film industry soon beckoned the young man, and in 1921 Hitchcock went to work full-time in the art department of British Famous Players-Lasky, which was the UK’s extension of the production arm of Paramount Pictures. He had already worked part-time for the film company on at least three films. Hitchcock’s first job in the motion picture industry was that of “captioneer,” which involved lettering (and sometimes writing) the explanatory title cards used in silent movies, and occasionally illustrating the cards or drawing borders. Also working at the studio was Alma Reville, the woman who became not only Hitchcock's wife (on December 2, 1926) but also the most important person in his career. During the next few years, Hitchcock’s career moved upward on a straight trajectory. In 1920 and 1921 Hitchcock worked as title designer on seven films. In 1922, he received screen credit as title designer and art director on five films and as director and producer of a sixth, titled Number Thirteen, which remained unfinished due to lack of money. By this time British Famous-Players Lasky had ended production. In 1923, Hitchcock signed on with a new film company, Balcon-Saville-Freedman (the first two names referring to Michael Balcon and Victor Saville), and so did Alma. As McGilligan relates it, Reville and Balcon facilitated Hitchcock’s final period of apprenticeship. From the latter half of 1923 through 1925, he and Reville worked on five films: Hitchcock as co-writer, art director, and assistant director; Reville as editor and second assistant director. Balcon produced all five although the final three were for a new company, Gainsborough Productions. This trio may indeed have constituted the first of what McGilligan has described as the “three Hitchcocks”—triumvirates made up of Hitchcock, Reville (whom McGilligan annoyingly refers to as “Mrs. Hitchcock” rather than by her professional name), and a third person, often a screenwriter, for pre-production brainstorming sessions. In 1925, Balcon gave Hitchcock another shot at directing films, and McGilligan quotes Hitchcock from an interview with director Peter Bogdanovich: “Balcon is really the man responsible for Hitchcock. I had been quite content at the time writing scripts and designing” (p. 67). McGilligan admits the generosity of this quote, considering that Hitchcock and Balcon later had a falling out when Hitchcock left for Hollywood. Hitchcock’s first completed directorial effort was The Pleasure Garden (1926). The script was written by Eliot Stannard while Alma served as assistant director. The interiors were filmed in Germany because the picture was actually a co-production of Gainsborough and Münchener Lichtspielkunst (phonetically called “Emelka” for its initials—MLK), a Munich production company. Here McGilligan hints at the origins of the classic Hitchcock blonde when he acknowledges that Alma began to help “shape his aesthetic of female beauty” at the time (p. 69). McGilligan also touches upon, but does not dwell on, Hitchcock’s interest in German expressionism and its influence on his work. Not too much later, as the author describes, the young director would also come under the spell of the Soviet filmmakers and theorists of the 1920s who were exponents of montage as the sublime standard of filmmaking. If Balcon was not the first to complete the triangulation of the so-called three Hitchcocks, then that honor surely fell to scriptwriter Eliot Stannard, who wrote eight of the ten silent films Hitchcock directed and, according to McGilligan, had a hand in the other two. Probably the best known Hitchcock film of this period was The Lodger (1926), which Stannard adapted from the novel by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes. Hitchcock’s third film was a “Jack-the-Ripper” tale starring Ivor Novello. This was an era when stodgy distributors and exhibitors ran the production companies, and Hitchcock was forced to make changes to the film to make it more commercial than he had intended—and Hitchcock was never shy about making a commercially viable picture. Nevertheless, it provided an early tutorial in negotiating the demands of studio executives and censors. The Lodger also marked the first of Hitchcock’s numerous cameo appearances in his films. As with many directors of the late silent era, Hitchcock’s last silent film, Blackmail (1929), was also his first “talkie.” By this time he had been working for British International Pictures (BIP) for nearly two years, with John Maxwell replacing Balcon as his producer. During the sound portion of Hitchcock’s BIP period, Alma was either the writer or co-writer of all of his features, including an adaptation of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (1929). Hitchcock returned to Balcon’s fold in 1934. Balcon was now the production chief of a new studio, Gaumont British, “which had acquired a holding interest in Gainsborough” (p. 152). (McGilligan’s explanation of the machinations of the British film industry in the silent and early talking eras is lucid and just long enough to hold the reader’s attention without slowing down the pace of his story.) At Gaumont British Hitchcock made the finest films of his pre-Hollywood period. These included the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), and Sabotage (1936). All were produced by Balcon, and the last three were written by Charles Bennett, who had replaced Stannard as the “third Hitchcock.” Alma was now in charge of continuity on her husband’s films. On the basis of these and other films, by 1938 Hitchcock, according to most critics, was Britain’s premier director, a sentiment McGilligan seconds. And Hollywood, in the person of producer David O. Selznick, thought so too. McGilligan’s account of Hitchcock’s seduction by Selznick and his older brother Myron could itself be a stand-alone book. In the 1930s and 40s, Myron Selznick was one of the top agents in Hollywood, and he soon added Hitchcock to his client list. Meanwhile, David O. Selznick was forging a path as an independent producer. While other producers and studios had an interest in signing Hitchcock on (and Balcon wanted to retain him), it was an open industry secret that Selznick had the inside track, courtesy of his brother. Hitchcock appeared to be blind to the obvious conflict of interest, or at least according to this account. In the end, the double-teaming worked perfectly—Hitchcock signed a contract with Selznick International Pictures that was very good considering it was during the Great Depression, but was egregious by Hollywood standards. Not only was the money subpar (here McGilligan summarizes a survey of directors’ salaries of that period done by Leo Rosten for his book, Hollywood: The Movie Colony, the Movie Makers), but Hitchcock was tied to Selznick by a series of one-year options. The director was often loaned out to other studios, for which Selznick was paid. Hitchcock’s first movie for Selznick International was Rebecca (1940). The director was allowed more freedom than most would have expected from such an interfering producer because Selznick was preoccupied with the massive publicity campaign for Gone with the Wind (1939). Certainly, nothing Hitchcock directed for Selznick approached that film, though he only directed three films, the other two being Spellbound (1945) and The Paradine Case (1947), with the script for the latter credited to Selznick. Yet, Hitchcock was prolific during the 1940s, releasing nine other films including such gems as Foreign Correspondent (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Lifeboat (1944), and Rope (1948). By the time of Rope, Hitchcock was no longer under Selznick’s thumb. McGilligan also describes Hitchcock’s behind-the-scenes war work, which included directing three short films (or compiling footage in the last instance). The first two were propaganda pieces produced by the British Ministry of Information for Phoenix Films, designed to boost morale in the Free French territories and stiffen the fighting spirit of the Resistance. These were Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, both released in 1944. The third film was released in 1945 and titled Memory of the Camps. It was done under the auspices of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Memory of the Camps was never finished and locked away for 40 years. It was broadcast on public television in the United States in the 1980s (after Hitchcock had died), and its grisly footage of the Nazi death camps can now be found on the Internet. Though McGilligan regales his readers with anecdotes concerning Hitchcock’s working methods for each film, he seems to enjoy himself when he shows the master tricking the studio censors or being downright subversive (for the era). The subversiveness even extended to casting. In Rope, for example, a film packed with homoerotic symbolism, the two young killers were portrayed by gay actors Farley Granger and John Dall, which added to the film’s frisson. But whether he was sly or subversive, coy or cute, casting was always important to Hitchcock because, as McGilligan recounts more than once, for Hitchcock the real creative work was in the preparation. Filming, he liked to say, was merely a matter of recording what had been scripted, storyboarded, and blocked. Of course, that attitude more or less coincides with the director’s famous “actors are cattle” quote, which McGilligan mentions, then skates around it. By the time he had extricated himself from the Selznick contract, Hitchcock was deep into his golden period—the 1940s and 50s. The latter decade was the pinnacle of his career when he made a number of what are now considered his classic films for Warner Brothers, Paramount or MGM. McGilligan treats the 1950s films with awe and reverence—he even subtitles the section on Hitchcock’s Paramount films “The Glory Years”—including the lesser works like I Confess (1953), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and The Wrong Man (1956). McGilligan shows that Hitchcock’s technique in The Wrong Man was again influenced by European cinema. But instead of German expressionism or Soviet avant-garde, Hitchcock now turned to Italian neorealism as the guiding aesthetic to tell the true story of a man falsely arrested in New York City.

McGilligan rightly exults in this period, for many films of that era are great works of art. During these years, Hitchcock scored casting coups with the male leads for his films, primarily Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. His female stars in the 1950s included Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, and Eva Marie Saint, with Kelly epitomizing the cool blonde.

In the 1950s, Hitchcock gained acceptance within his own industry. It may sound ironic, but he was not as accepted in Hollywood as his reputation deserved. McGilligan records numerous instances of actors and writers thinking Hitchcock’s work and genre were second-rate. It took young critics from the French film magazine Cahiers du cinema—some of whom, such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Eric Rohmer, would become great film directors in their own right—to cement Hitchcock’s artistic reputation. They managed to convince the world of his artistry. This nouvelle vague acclaim culminated in the 1960s with the publication of Truffaut’s interview book, Hitchcock. Also at this time, he became a recognizable figure to the public because of his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a half-hour anthology series of suspense. (Toward the end of its seven-year run the program expanded to an hour.) The producer was Joan Harrison, a “third Hitchcock” dating back to his Gaumont British days. For Hitchcock, the 1960s were the beginning of the end, despite the early decade triumphs of Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). McGilligan goes about his task of recording and explaining Hitchcock’s decline, as a biographer should, but he takes no pleasure in it, and, likewise, neither does the reader. A number of factors played into this decline: Hitchcock’s age and his health, Alma’s own declining health, and the loss of friends and colleagues, especially some of the production people he had relied on for years at Paramount. Changing trends in the industry contributed to his own sense that his style had become dated. His last two films of the decade, Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969) were, according to McGilligan, attempts to reclaim the spy genre from the Bond films and their imitators, all of which Hitchcock thought cartoonish. Unfortunately, both were commercial and critical failures. Hitchcock managed a brief comeback with Frenzy (1972), a serial-killer tale set in London, as though he were bidding a final goodbye to the city that nurtured his career. But McGilligan’s account of the making of this film is tinged with pathos. From here on, the story of Hitchcock’s life is saturated with Hollywood clichés of the aging filmmaker that were certainly absent from his films. To his credit, McGilligan conveys the psychological pain and loneliness of the great man in winter, but does not overdo it. And in case the reader has forgotten one of the reasons for the book’s existence, McGillgan added a coda that summarizes the greatness of Hitchcock’s career, though the preceding 700-plus pages hardly needed a recapitulation of their major theme.

In the years following Alfred Hitchcock’s death in 1980, an image of him as a dark, vindictive, and lecherous man clung to his memory. More than 20 years later, Film historian Patrick McGilligan re-...

When the acclaimed American author Tom Wolfe died in 2018, he left a rich body of work whose stylistic blend of literary and journalistic techniques pioneered a movement in the 1960s and 70s known as the New Journalism. Along with writers like Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese, this new movement pushed the boundaries of traditional journalism and nonfiction writing by introducing novelistic elements (controversial at the time) into their reportorial accounts. Armed with this novel approach, Wolfe produced such contemporary classics as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, From Bauhaus to Our House, and The Right Stuff that cemented his place in American literature. These and other books sought to cover the central cultural narrative of postwar America, but they never became literature. Wolfe addressed literary matters only occasionally, often as grist for his traditional stylistic flour mill. In his last effort, The Kingdom of Speech, Wolfe takes on two scientific pillars in the realms of biology and linguistics, namely Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky. Darwin, of course, is considered the father of evolution—the view that all life forms are descended from a single common ancestor through unguided natural processes, and that life and its taxa are the products of the same natural laws that governed the formation of the universe. Chomsky is regarded as the father of modern linguistics for his formalization of the principles of syntactic structures in the brain. His model of language in the brain, called universal grammar, explains how language is unique to humans. Wolfe kicks off his narrative with the life and work of British naturalist, explorer, and travel writer, Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was an explorer and adventurer who contributed to the theory of natural selection alongside Darwin, although never at the same time or location. In this book, Wolfe largely uses the writing and discoveries of Wallace to support much of the argument he is trying to make—namely, that Darwin and Wallace had similar ideas about evolution and natural selection before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and that Wallace's discoveries equaled those of Darwin. This is important because Wallace was only awarded joint credit for his contributions with Darwin at Darwin's insistence after the scientific community repeatedly snubbed him for many years. Perhaps the popular belief that Darwin was the real scientific genius behind his theory of evolution and the idea of natural selection and that Wallace was the one left out is, in fact, false and wrong. And contemporary science, rightly so, has given Wallace the credit he deserves, and Wolfe wants to see him further recognized. Yet the central narrative of The Kingdom of Speech is Wolfe's proposed cognitive revolution, a return to thinking about the origin of human nature and its place in the natural world, specifically the relationship between widely used languages and the many other languages found in the world’s wild. In the book, Wolfe takes on Darwin's assertion that man is an ape and life is a meaningless process without intent. Wolfe asserts that far from the ape, humans stand apart from other animals with an incomparable ability to reason and communicate. The book is a broadside against Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Chomsky’s view that human language is simply one more adaptation of our brain. These pillars have been nothing short of a blind ideology for many researchers, Wolfe claims, a blindness that Wolfe seeks to overturn. However, the true guiding principle of the book is Wolfe’s argument against Chomsky’s theory about the evolutionary basis of human language. Wolfe realized that Chomsky’s reliance on the notion of “perfect grammar” that humans have in their heads, separate from any empirical evidence, was very similar to the notion of “a perfect machine, already invented.” In later chapters, Wolfe accuses Chomsky of being Darwin’s intellectual heir, arguing that Chomsky’s theory that much of language is innate is similar to Darwin’s vision of the perfect machine. While Wolfe is right about Chomsky’s reliance on an ideal grammar, he is honestly wrong about the specifics of Chomsky's views. There is no Chomskyan parallel to Darwin's supposed "ideal machine.” Chomsky holds that humans have certain innate grammatical rules which are used to explain how humans acquire language. His view is much more sophisticated than Wolfe’s caricature, which misrepresents Chomsky by ignoring many of his nuanced theories on the subject, and in particular, Chomsky’s view of individual languages being historical, social, and cultural phenomena, while language is a biological faculty of the mind. Furthermore, Chomsky in his writings has proposed a specific mathematical model to describe the mind’s functioning, and not just language’s. This Mathematical Model of the Human Language Faculty, as Chomsky calls it, is Merge. Merge is a non-mandatory operation of putting together words in order to create meaningful sentences. This model is not purely concerned with language, but with the human mind’s ability to reason and understand abstract concepts. Chomsky’s famous views are not the fiction Wolfe makes them out to be, but empirical hypotheses about mind and brain. Chomsky is working on a neurobiological theory of how the mind is able to accomplish these functions that he has himself described in greater detail in recent writings. These are the essential features of Chomsky’s theory, and the outlines of the theory are not fiction; they are supported by empirical evidence. Chomsky is not the father of the idea that language is an innate skill. A number of linguists before him have viewed language as a cognitive ability of human beings. More specifically, Chomsky is the father of the idea that language is an innate, learned skill that is not reliant on any specific culture or environment. Though this is true, Chomsky has emphasized over the years that in his view language is a biological faculty that is learned and socialized by humans in whatever culture they are born and raised in, and therefore, it is just as much cultural as biological. Wolfe’s claim that Chomsky posits that every human fetus is born with a universal grammar encoded in their brains which cues the right age of language acquisition, is patently false. Chomsky holds that children possess an innate, biological ability—universal grammar—which allows them to learn any human language. He does not believe that infants come out of the womb with “a universal language in perfect working shape.” That is dangerous, and Chomsky has often used the example that infants are never born with perfect pitch, yet they are able to acquire music. Chomsky has championed the idea that language is primarily a human concern, not a scientific one, though it is both. He has written extensively about the shortcomings of the scientific method used in linguistics, critiquing non-empirical techniques that have been used for a long time in an effort to explain language’s evolution and development. Chomsky admits that because language is cultural and humans are not perfectly rational creatures, they cannot know what is truly in their heads, and therefore can’t know what language really is. In fact, as Chomsky puts it, language can be considered as a form of thought. But it is not only that; it is also a form of action. The old non-scientific model of linguistics, the structuralist approach which proposed that language represented three things—sound, meaning, and logic—is the kind of analytical approach that Chomsky has been arguing for and against. For instance, in his article, “A Review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior,” he accuses Skinner of being unaware of the true complexity of language. Chomsky’s analysis of language made it easy for him to disagree with the sterile versions of linguistics that he sees linguists using in their studies. Chomsky says that language doesn’t just reside in the brain passively, but rather serves many purposes in the real world, and that language is action-oriented. It can be used by a person to tell a story, to ask for help, to write a poem, to say goodbye to an old friend, to call attention to an object, or to say good morning. If language didn’t do anything, then none of its meaning would be known to humans. Chomsky focused on syntax, the common rules in our head that are used to create anything that we say. He also proves that the same rules are not used in music, in painting, or in mathematics. Human language is special because the rules are universal. The Kingdom of Speech is the most poetic work of Wolfe’s long career. It is also his most visionary, most speculative, most excitable, and most intellectually dense. Wolfe has managed to create two literary worlds, old and new, that simultaneously exist, but not in the usual alternating fashion. He attempts to create a literary structure of simultaneous alternative futures that exist in the present. It is the literary prose of an old man trying to win an argument with a younger opponent who is not always convinced by the very argument he is trying to win himself. One only hopes that this work will lead to a counter-argument by another younger adversary, for who else will engage so passionately and with such animus this great boreal owl, this founding father of new American creative literature.

When the acclaimed American author Tom Wolfe died in 2018, he left a rich body of work whose stylistic blend of literary and journalistic techniques pioneered a movement in the 1960s and 70s known as ...

Widely considered as one of the top musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis (1926–1991) was a major force in jazz. He was not only a gifted trumpeter and composer, but also an innovator who created a nine-member band called the “nonet,” in which unconventional (in jazz) instruments like French horn and tuba were used. He also invented a style known as “cool jazz,” characterized by softer and more subdued tempos than traditional jazz rhythms.
Quincy Troupe is an awarding-winning author of ten volumes of poetry, three children’s books, and six non-fiction works. In 2010, Troupe received the American Book Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement. Among Troupe’s best-selling works are Miles: The Autobiography of Miles Davis and his memoir, Miles & Me, soon to become a major motion picture. He joins us on Culture Insight to share his insight into the life and work of Miles Davis.

Widely considered as one of the top musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis (1926–1991) was a major force in jazz. He was not only a gifted trumpeter and composer, but also an innovator who creat...

1. The physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) was born on December 5, 1901, in Wurzburg, Germany. As a child, he played the piano and had a remarkable ability to play complex compositions despite his youth and relative inexperience.

2. His father, August Heisenberg, was a Middle and Modern Greek Languages professor at the University of Munich. Heisenberg himself would later study physics at that same university.

3. A year after graduating from his doctoral program at Munich, he worked with Niels Bohr at the University of Copenhagen. In this role, Heisenberg's talent was made more apparent, and his credibility as a scientist was further established. Though he was only 26-years-old at the time, his work with Bohr earned him a professorship at the University of Leipzig.

4. His theory of quantum mechanics, initially published when he was 23-years-old, laid the groundwork for his reception of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932. The following year, Heisenberg received another prestigious honor, the Max Planck Medal. 

5. Heisenberg met a woman named Elisabeth Schumacher, the daughter of an economics professor, at a private music recital. The pair fell in love and later married in 1937. Together, they raised seven children.

[caption id="attachment_36086" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Werner Heisenberg Werner Heisenberg[/caption]

6. On May 3, 1945, he was taken prisoner by U.S. troops and deported to England for his role in developing nuclear bombs for the Nazis. He was released and deported to England the following year. 

7. He once remarked, “Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves.”

8. Aside from his Nobel Prize, some of Heisenberg's awards include multiple honorary doctorates, the Order of Merit of Bavaria, and the Grand Cross for Federal Services with Star.

9. One of his most famous scientific contributions is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This principle states that simultaneous values cannot be attributed to the position and movement of a given physical system. 

10. Heisenberg passed away in his home on February 1, 1976, after suffering from kidney cancer. He was 74-years-old.

1. The physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) was born on December 5, 1901, in Wurzburg, Germany. As a child, he played the piano and had a remarkable ability to play complex compositions despite his...

John Milton (1608-1674), regarded as one of the greatest English poets, thought by some to rival Shakespeare, was a late bloomer. He lived at home well into his 30s and engaged in private study, after having obtained a BA and MA at Cambridge and mastering Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, some Hebrew, and Dutch. But as Anna Beer, a lecturer and a Fellow in Literature at Oxford, observes in this careful, even-handed biography, “John Milton had problems. He was still living with his parents. He still did not have a profession [having rejected the Church and Law]. He was (it could be argued) still reading far too many books. And he appears to have been in love with a man.” To Charles Diodati, his dear friend and possibly his lover, he wrote, “What am I pondering, you ask? God help me, immortality.” Though his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, was not published until he was past 50, he steadfastly prepared for his role as a great English poet. Fortunately, his father, a composer, earned a good living as a scrivener, moneylender, and real estate investor, providing Milton with an exemplary education, travel abroad, and lots of free time. What is apparent from Beer’s book is that Milton was intensely involved in the political, religious, and sexual debates of his age. His positions were often unpopular, controversial, and heretical. As a young man, he was an outspoken proponent of chastity and seemed to elevate the love and friendship between like-minded men above the inferior dealings between the opposite sexes. This added fuel to the suspicions of his homosexuality. Beer is careful to say there is no proof one way or the other about his sexual preferences, but his descriptions of heterosexual lovemaking (“husband and wife grind in the mill of an undelighted and servile copulation”) seem to reveal considerable distaste and repulsion, even though, after Diodati’s early death, Milton married three times and fathered four children.
John Milton
He sparked other controversies as well: besides being a known advocate of divorce in his tracts, Milton championed freedom of speech in Areopagitica. He believed in a republic, not a monarchy; was deeply Protestant and against the papacy, but ultimately favored the freedom of worship and the separation of church and state—all risky positions in 17th century Europe. After King Charles had been executed in 1649 in the aftermath of the English Civil War, Milton thrived under the government of Oliver Cromwell in the Interregnum, filling a government post as Minister of Foreign Languages. Upon Cromwell’s overthrow, however, he feared for his life.  When Charles II assumed the throne in 1660, many of Milton’s countrymen were executed, drawn and quartered, their heads boiled and hung from spikes from the city’s walls. Although he was imprisoned for two months, it was conceivably his reputation as a pamphleteer and a very learned man who, by then, was blinded by glaucoma, which spared him. Milton survived all the other upheavals of the century as well—the Plague, the Great Fire of London, the deaths of his first two wives and a son, and varying degrees of financial hardship. His loss of vision, which critics blamed on Milton’s sins, made composition difficult. Always careful of his legacy, he ensured that copies of his major works were sequestered in libraries and reprinted often. His oeuvre included pastoral poems, a masque, political writings, and the epic poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Beer reconstructs for us the controversies of the day, focusing on the bullying of Milton based on his effete looks, sexual mores, and radical political views. She excels in positioning him in the political, religious, and sexual contexts of his time, providing an astute reading of Paradise Lost and addressing critics’ views that Milton was “of the devil’s party”—namely, that Satan emerged as the “charismatic, intelligent, ruthless” character. She also demonstrates the psychological underpinnings of Milton’s characters, the contradictions inherent in Satan’s quest, the logical problem of blaming Eve for the fall of mankind (she was designed to be inferior and subservient to her master, Adam, who should have protected her and led rather than followed her lead), and the promise of redemption through the Son of God. Beer does not fail to share her delight in the language itself:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and providence their guide: They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.
This biography is thorough and balanced and amazing in its detail of a life 400 years in the past. Undisputedly, Milton is one of our literary greats, and the very causes he promoted—freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, freedom to divorce, freedom to love regardless of gender, as well as the separation of church and state and republicanism as opposed to monarchy—forge a powerful link with a 21st century reader. Some may wish for more sensationalism (read: dirt), but Beer is circumspect and never makes claims she cannot, in all conscience, back up.

John Milton (1608-1674), regarded as one of the greatest English poets, thought by some to rival Shakespeare, was a late bloomer. He lived at home well into his 30s and engaged in private study, after...

This brief and colorful volume offers a biographical and thematic survey of the remarkably complex and controversial work of the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. As author Gilles Néret explains on the very first page, Dalí was an admitted megalomaniac who wrote once that he awoke each morning to experience the great joy of being himself. From the age of seven, he explained, his ambition evolved to the point that he could envision “no greater wish” than to be Salvador Dalí. Though it is obviously not the largest or most comprehensive treatment of this remarkable artistic visionary, Néret’s book provides his readers with an entertaining glimpse of that wish. The book is divided into four major sections. The opening chapter—which carries the unusual title of “How to be a Genius”—Néret surveys Dalí’s early life, especially the formation of his artistic persona, including his oversized confidence in his own talents, a theatrical arrogance that helped bring about his famous expulsion from the Madrid Academy of Fine Arts in 1926. Néret explores the importance of Dalí’s Catalan roots, from which his paintings derived a sensual emphasis (reflecting, for example, his passion for food) as well as a preoccupation with its coastal Mediterranean landscape, which figured so centrally in his early works. During these early years, lasting through his move to Paris—where he intended to “seize power”—Dalî energetically toyed with a variety of styles, particularly the contemporary trends that included Impressionism, Cubism, Pointillism, and Futurism. None of these held his interest for long, as Dalí used each style as a staging ground for developing a broader, unbounded devotion to the irrational—or what he later described as his “paranoid-critical method.” The irrational experience of love, as Néret explains, focused Dalí’s artistic vision more than anything else. His Parisian introduction to Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (known as “Gala”) the wife of the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard, brought a greater sensuality—indeed, an overpowering sexuality—to Dalí’s work from the late 1920s through the 1930s. Exploring Freudian symbolism in works like The Great Masturbator (1929) and The Enigma of Desire—My Mother, my Mother, my Mother (1929), Dalí showcased the interplay of “hard” and “soft” forms; in other works, he clotted his images with cabinets and drawers, drawing on Freud’s consideration of the subconscious as a repository for secret desires and repressed traumas. Meantime, as if to complete the Freudian drama, Dalí’s relationship with his father capsized during these years, a trauma that was reflected indirectly in some of the work he completed in self-imposed exile in a small Spanish fishing village. The last two chapters look more directly at the maturation of Dalí’s “paranoid-critical method”—an approach to art that not even Dalí himself could explain with clarity—and his various battles with the Surrealists, especially the ferocious Andre Breton. Among Dalí’s greatest jabs at Surrealism was to give it three-dimensional shape and substance through the creation of “objects functioning symbolically.” Dalí’s surrealist objects included his famous Lobster Telephone or the couch he conceived in the form of Mae West’s lips; these and other inventions drew Surrealism away from its preoccupation with dream and language. (Dalí also perturbed Surrealists like Breton with his seemingly passive response to the rise of fascism, an episode that Néret discusses in some detail.) During the 1940s and afterward, Dalí also turned to science and metaphysics to create some of his more memorable “hallucinations” and “scientific visions,” and his work drew new influences from time spent in the United States as well as from his turn toward Catholic mysticism after World War II. Overall, Dalí is an artistic autobiography rather than a detailed study of the artist’s life. Indeed, the book tells us very little about Salvador Dalí after the 1960s—an omission that is perhaps appropriate since the vast bulk of his work was completed by the end of the 1970s. Readers who are seeking a more comprehensive look at Dalí the person would do better to read elsewhere. Those who are looking for a brief, nicely packaged (and inexpensive) introduction to his enormously entertaining and at times baffling work, Néret’s slim volume is an excellent place to begin.

This brief and colorful volume offers a biographical and thematic survey of the remarkably complex and controversial work of the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. As author Gilles Néret explains on the...

1. Theodor Adorno was a proficient pianist and composed music throughout his life.
2. Adorno was fluent in several languages, including German, English, French, and Italian.. 3. He was a close friend and colleague of philosopher Herbert Marcuse, and the two worked together on several projects. 4. Adorno served as a mentor to several younger intellectuals and was influential in the development of the careers of Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. 5. Adorno's work was heavily influenced by the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
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6. During World War II, Adorno fled Germany and spent several years in the United States, where he worked as a research assistant at Columbia University. 7. Adorno was a strong critic of the post-war West German government and its economic policies, and his work was often seen as politically controversial. 8. Adorno was a founding member of the Socialist German Student Union and was active in the anti-fascist movement in Germany. 9. He was a member of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Germany for a short time, but later left the party due to ideological differences. 10. Adorno's work has been translated into numerous languages, and he is widely read and studied in countries around the world.

1. Theodor Adorno was a proficient pianist and composed music throughout his life. 2. Adorno was fluent in several languages, including German, English, French, and Italian.. 3. He was a close friend ...

Giles Milton has written a true-life thriller about one of the darkest periods in history. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a fascinating account of the exploits of a band of colorful characters. Men and women with particular experience and skills were recruited by the British military to fight a dirty, clandestine war against Nazi Germany. World War II buffs will soak up every page, but even readers who aren’t as familiar with this period will likely appreciate the page-turning details of brave agents executing impossible missions behind enemy lines. The Special Operations Executive was set up on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill to help partisan cells in Europe resist Nazi occupation in places like Poland, France, and Norway. Milton describes how the organization was staffed with colorful characters with disparate backgrounds and skills to match. He also points out that many British officials and military officers in the group had to be willing to bend the rules. Their attitudes seem strange, given that many of them would have had keen memories of the horrors of the World War 1. Milton argues effectively that the unorthodox nature of the SOE was both necessary and effective in fighting the Nazis. A secretary in the SEO named Joan addresses the British sense of fair play and her experiences outside Britain: the experience of living abroad had taught her an important fact: the British alone played by the rules” (page 29). She had lived in Latin America for a time and experienced the endemic public corruption and the cynicism it bred. An agent named Pendergast was adamant that ruthlessness was a key to successful operations. This approach was tested when they assassinated an important Nazi official in Czechoslovakia, and the Gestapo retaliated by murdering thousands of innocent people. The SOE leadership argued that that Nazi official would have been responsible for even more deaths if he’d been allowed to live. It is difficult to imagine military leaders today, with the climate of leaks and an unsympathetic press, making such a frank and cold-blooded assessment. Even though some in the British government continued to object to the SOE throughout the war, the book explains that it was generally spared much of the usual bureaucratic interference that hampered other parts of the government. This was because the group had the active support of Churchill who, among other things, helped them fast-track the development of weapons such as explosives, custom designed for particular sabotage missions. The author makes it clear that even when a mission was a success, there were often costs such as civilian casualties and the capture or death of agents. He was able to strike a balance between the romantic heroism of the agents and the bloody horrors of war. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is an impressive achievement that students of military history will thoroughly enjoy, but the exciting narrative should keep general readers interested as well. Some readers might be disappointed that Churchill is left mostly in the background, appearing occasionally to provide a pithy line or throw his support behind a controversial weapon. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating tale filled with heroic characters, and Milton’s writing reflects the liveliness of his subjects. He describes a dramatic scene where a group of agents tries to make contact with partisans in the middle of a winter storm:
“Nature certainly proved dominant in the bluish-grey hour before dawn. Snow pellets scoured horizontal in the winter gale as the mercury plummeted. The men urgently needed to make contact with the Grouse party who had been living out on the Hardanger for four months” (page 231).
This vivid description could have come from one of Alistair MacLean’s novels, but Milton’s work reminds us that truth is often even more captivating than fiction.

Giles Milton has written a true-life thriller about one of the darkest periods in history. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare is a fascinating account of the exploits of a band of colorf...

John Maynard Keynes is so often called the “most influential economist of the twentieth century” that it has become a cliché. But even though the former Cambridge don is cited more often than anyone else in the field, his work is not well understood. The Cambridge Companion to Keynes is a collection of essays aimed at deepening our knowledge of the father of macroeconomics. It also succeeds in debunking some of the myths that still surround him. Editors Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman have compiled works investigating Keynes the man, the economist, the philosopher, and the business person. The book’s first several essays concern Keynes’s academic work and the most lucid of these is "Keynes and the birth of modern macroeconomics" by David Laidler. Laidler effectively balances careful analysis of Keynes’s economics with an easy-to-understand writing style. He argues that where Keynesianism begins—and where the classical tradition of economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo ends—is with the Cambridge economist’s rejection of Say’s Law. Say’s Law posits that a general glut (conditions in which goods and services pile up because no one can afford to buy them, like what occurred during the Great Depression) is impossible because supply creates its own demand through the payment of wages. Keynes broke with the intellectual tradition of his forebears by asserting that supply doesn’t necessarily create its own demand. According to Laidler, Keynes’s rejection of this precept flowed primarily from his views on psychology. The alleged impact of psychology, what Keynes called “animal spirits,” was that wild swings in the collective mood of investors could cause a mismatch between savings and investment. Households and individuals save their excess income, but because of low investor confidence, those savings are not recycled back into the economy as investment. As Laidler puts it, Keynes found that “in times of optimism, the natural rate of interest rose, and in times of pessimism it fell, and the market rate of interest failed to keep up with its fluctuations” (the natural rate of interest is defined as the rate at which savings equal investment). Cutting through the jargon, the author explains that animal spirits had very real implications for households. Keynes asserted that the mismatch between savings and investment tended to correct itself over time, but not through adjustment in the real interest rate (which is what the classical economists assumed). Rather, declining investment led to unemployment, which in turn sapped household savings. Savings and investment do equilibrate but at a suboptimal level. High unemployment becomes the norm. Laidler concedes that these views weren’t entirely original to Keynes—John Stuart Mill first raised the issue of a savings/investment mismatch a century earlier—but contends he was the first to develop a comprehensive framework for explaining why downturns turn into recessions, and why recessions turn into depressions. Even more important, he offered a way out.
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The next section of the book covers the practical implications of Keynes’s intellectual musings: what policy prescriptions he recommended, and to what extent they were followed in his native Britain and elsewhere. Of these, "Keynes and British economic policy" by George C. Peden offers the clearest account of the man’s impact on policy. Peden finds that, contrary to the high school textbook account of Keynes, his ideas on economics had a surprisingly small effect on policy in Britain and elsewhere. While rocking the intellectual landscape with the 1936 publication of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Keynes had only a marginal influence on British policymaking before 1940, when the Treasury retained him as an advisor. The issue was how to finance the Second World War without causing inflation or incurring large amounts of public debt. In this case, Keynes recommended that the Treasury raise taxes to keep inflation in check. What’s more, the supposed “Keynesian consensus” of the postwar years was much less influenced by his work than is often assumed. Factors outside of demand management helped buoy postwar employment and, says Peden, “it was not difficult to maintain full employment during the long postwar boom.” To what extent governments did follow Keynes’s prescriptions, as was in their support for capital investment, and not in consumer demand management schemes. Investment shortfalls were the culprit for sinking aggregate demand, and his position was the governments should fill the gap with low-interest rates and direct investment. Later essays cover topics including Keynes’s personal life, philosophical views, writings, and business dealings. The most notable of these is Keynes’s political philosophy by Samuel Brittan. Our subject was an avowed liberal, but Brittan presents a version of him that is strikingly balanced. Keynes’s personal letters indicate a fierce individualism—“nothing really exists or feels but individuals”—but this was tempered by distrust of liberal market principles like fixed rules and self-regulating markets: “the world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide.” Ultimately, we see a man of firm principles but flexible views, and a belief that both the state and the market should have a role in promoting the universal goals of “economic efficiency, social justice, and individual liberty.” Co-editor Bradley W. Bateman wraps up the volume with a brilliant overview, "Keynes, and Keynesianism." Bateman finds that many commonly-held ideas about the man’s work are false, hence what we’ve come to call “Keynesianism” would not necessarily be supported by the man himself. The author debunks myths common on both ends of the political spectrum, starting with the conventional right-wing view that Keynes was an enthusiast of fiscal profligacy and ever-expanding government. Bateman cites a 1940 pamphlet titled How to Pay for the War in which Keynes argued that “the ordinary Budget should be balanced at all times.” Bateman also criticizes the view from the left that Keynes favored government-subsidized consumption and, even more egregious, that he promoted the idea that budget deficits pay for themselves over time. “Keynes had never shown much belief in the efficacy of adjusting consumption,” Bateman writes. Rather, he “argued instead for policies that would affect investment.” The Cambridge Companion is a comprehensive volume without glaring weaknesses. Readers without a strong background in economics will find some of the essays difficult, however. And it would have benefited with at least one essay from the great man himself. But this collection is one of the best sources available for a deep and wide understanding of the life and work of John Maynard Keynes.

John Maynard Keynes is so often called the “most influential economist of the twentieth century” that it has become a cliché. But even though the former Cambridge don is cited more often than an...