Guest Post: On Walden Pond, On Election Day

  After casting my ballot on Election Day, I took my two young daughters and my father, who was visiting from Wisconsin, to Walden Pond. It was a sunny fall day, unseasonably warm for November in Massachusetts. We splashed and played and collected stones, and as I watched my girls run free on the sand, […]

Conversation: James Gleick in the Fourth Dimension

May I introduce James Gleick?  He’s been on staff at the New York Times, and has written seven books, including Chaos and Genius (a biography of Richard Feynman), for which he’s won impressive prizes.  And he’s just published Time Travel, which Joyce Carol Oates called “another of [his] superb, unclassifiable books.”  It’s a compendium of […]

Toward a Unified Theory of Poohsticks

By the time it arrived at the edge of our campsite, the stream had grown up so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. It was still clear and shallow, but […]

Dr. Frankenstein’s Climate

Between two and three o’clock in the morning on June 16, 1816, during a restless night in a villa on Lake Geneva, eighteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin had a waking dream. As the moon shone through the shutters of her room, she remembered, “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had […]

Shakespeare Was a Journalist

This past Saturday, the world celebrated the birthday of a guy named William Shakespeare. He was born in Stratford-on-Avon in England on April 23, 1564, and died on or about the same date in 1616. Pretty much every reputable Shakespeare scholar and literary historian argues—based on historical evidence—that this William Shakespeare was the author, alone […]

Simplify, Simplify

I’ve owned only one copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and I’ve owned it since high school. It’s a 1980 Signet Classic paperback, original price $1.75. Inside the creased front cover, in ballpoint pen, a long-ago student has scrawled, “I want to go to sleep. I’ll never last 1 hr + 20 min reading!” I wasn’t that student—I […]

Antevernals in the Anthropocene

Over the past twenty years, naturalist David Lukas has hiked thousands of miles of trails in the Sierra Nevada, most of them accompanied by a slim, sturdy little book called Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms. Lukas likes nature and he likes words, and he especially likes to know the history and meaning of our words about […]

No, Mr. Penn, That Is Not Why We Hate You

Like every foreign journalist living in Mexico, I’ve been watching the Sean-Penn-interviews-notorious-drug-lord with a mix of humor and mild disgust. It’s like some kind of adolescent game of Mad Libs. El Chapo meets Sean Penn in the mountains to talk about farts and penises. I tried to read the article but could only force myself […]